Specialists expect about 5,400 Canadians will be diagnosed with oral cavity cancer in 2021. Unfortunately, about one-third of those patients won’t survive. However, most oral cancers are curable if detected early which is why scanning the mouth for signs of cancer is now a regular part of your semi-annual checkup.
HOW ORAL CANCER AFFECTS YOUR LIFE
Oral cancer can start anywhere in the mouth including the lips, gums, roof, and floor as well as tongue. Treatments can change the way you eat, talk and look, it also takes an emotional toll. Cancer in your mouth has the ability to change everything. Variables depend on the size of the cancer, its location, and how advanced it is. No matter what though, there are ways to deal with the changes.
WHO’S AT RISK
Oral cancer screening helps detect mouth cancer as well as precancerous lesions. Almost everybody can benefit from Finding these lesions early on is the easiest way to remove and cure oral cancer, especially for those with increased risk factors. Increased risk factors include:
- Smoking and tobacco, including cigarettes, pipes, chewing tobacco and more.
- Heavy alcohol use.
- Previous oral or skin cancer
- A history of significant sun exposure.
WHAT TO EXPECT DURING YOUR SCREENING
Oral cancer screenings usually happen during routine dental appointments. Your dentist will inspect the inside of your mouth, looking for white or red patches or sores. While gloved, the dentist will feel the tissue of your mouth, ensuring there are no lumps or other abnormalities. The dentist usually examines your throat and neck as well. If you wear dentures, you’ll be asked to remove them, so the dentist can check the tissue underneath.
Once a year, or every other year, your dentist may use an oral cancer screening light. This will make your healthy tissue appear dark, and causes any abnormal tissue to appear white. Using the cancer screening light isn’t painful or time-consuming.
Oral cancer screening dye may also be used periodically. You’ll swish a special blue dye around your mouth before the dentist begins the exam. The dye will stick to any abnormal cells in the mouth making them easier to spot.
If any of the above tests return with abnormal or worrisome results, the dentist usually recommends one of two options:
- A follow-up visit may be booked first, to see if the abnormal area is still there and if it’s changed or grown in that time.
- A biopsy may be done to remove a sample of cells for testing. Depending on the situation, the dentist may perform the biopsy or refer you to an oral cancer specialist.
It’s important to remember that not all spots or lumps a dentist will find are cancer, but if they are, catching their condition early means you’ll have more treatment options. That’s why keeping up your annual or semi-annual cleaningsis important for everyone.
There is no sure-fire way to prevent oral cancer, but there are actions you can take to help lower the chance of it occurring, such as quitting tobacco and smoking related products. Reducing the amount of alcohol you consume and the amount of time you spend in the sun will also reduce your risks of oral cancer.