Oral cancer can be detected in the early stages, as the oral cavity is easy to see and is often the first place cancer is detected. Performing a self-examination regularly will help in early recognition.
Dr Asdell recommends that everyone do an oral cancer self-exam at least once a month. If you are at a high risk for oral cancer -- smoker, drinker, user of smokeless tobacco -- not only should you be seeing your general dentist at least twice a year, he or she should be extra-critical in their screen for signs and symptoms of oral cancer.
The things to look for when performing an oral cancer self-examination are:
- Reddish patches - described as erythroplakia
- Whitish patches - described as leukoplakia
- A sore that fails to heal and bleeds easily
- A lump or thickening of the tissues
- Chronic sore throat or hoarseness
- Difficulty in chewing or swallowing
To complete an oral examination, using a bright light and a mirror:
- Remove dentures, if necessary
- Look and feel inside of lips, front of gums
- Tilt head back to look at and feel the roof of your mouth
- Pull the cheek out to see the inside and also to see the back gums
- Put out your tongue, look at all surfaces
- Feel for lumps or enlarged lymph nodes (glands) in both sides of the neck and under the lower jaw
EARLY DETECTION AND TREATMENT LEAD TO A BETTER CHANCE OF CURE
If you have any of these signs, see your oral and maxillofacial surgeon. Should the oral surgeon agree that something looks suspicious, a biopsy may be recommended. This is a procedure that involves the removal of a piece of the suspicious tissue. The specimen is then sent to a pathology laboratory for microscopic examination in order to make an accurate diagnosis.
The biopsy not only helps in establishing a diagnosis, but enables Dr. Asdell to make a treatment plan specifically designed for the type of lesion that has been diagnosed.
FACTORS THAT MAY CAUSE CANCER
Research has determined a number of factors that may contribute to the development of oral cancer. The most common is the use of tobacco and alcohol. Others include poor oral hygiene, irritation caused by ill-fitting dentures and rough surfaces on teeth, poor nutrition and combinations of these factors.
Studies have shown that the death rate from oral cancer is about four times higher for cigarette smokers than for nonsmokers. It is also widely believed in the medical field that the heat generated by smoking pipes and cigars irritates the oral tissue and can lead to oral cancer.
Those at an especially high risk of contracting oral cancer are males over 40 years of age who are combination heavy drinkers and smokers or users of smokeless tobacco.
So keep in mind that your mouth is one of your body's most important early warning systems. Don't ignore any suspicious lumps or sores. Should you discover something, make an appointment for a prompt examination. Early treatment may well be the key to complete recovery.