The Importance of Oral Cancer Screening

Sep 01, 2022
The Importance of Oral Cancer Screening
You know that when you go to the dentist twice a year, they check for cavities and gum health. But did you know that your dentist also looks at your soft tissues for signs of oral cancer? That’s right: A dentist appointment may save your life.

Every year in the United States, about 54,000 women and men are diagnosed with oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer. More than 11,000 people die from oral cancers.

Almost everyone knows about lung cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer. Few know about or think about oral cancer. Luckily, your dentist not only knows about oral cancer but can also identify it.

Nisha Modi, DMD, founder of Miracle Smile Dental in Aubrey, Texas, screens for oral cancer during every preventive dentistry appointment. Here are a few reasons why oral cancer screening should be part of your routine.

Oral cancer spreads quickly

Unlike some other cancers, such as prostate cancer — which is slow growing — oral cancer is fast. Cancers in the mouth and throat can quickly metastasize to other body parts. However, when caught early enough, oral cancers can be removed, and you receive chemotherapy or radiation to reduce the risk of metastasis.

Because time is of the essence with oral cancer, screening for it regularly is paramount. To keep your teeth and gums healthy, you should have preventive exams and professional cleanings at least twice a year. 

Preventive exams include your dentist looking closely at the soft tissues in your mouth to check for suspicious changes. During each appointment, Dr. Modi examines your:

  • Face
  • Neck
  • Lips
  • Mouth
  • Throat

When she detects abnormalities, she takes a biopsy of the tissue. If the lab detects cancer cells, she refers you to an oncologist for treatment. She continues to work with your oncologist and surgeon to restore your mouth to health.

Oral cancer can be mistaken for other conditions

Unless you know how to identify oral cancers, you might miss the signs and symptoms or even misdiagnose yourself. Common symptoms of oral cancer include:

  • Ulcer, sore, lump, or patch on your lips, mouth, or throat
  • White or red patch inside your mouth
  • Swollen jaw
  • Persistent sore throat
  • Sensation of something caught in your throat
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or talking
  • Difficulty moving your tongue or jaw
  • Numbness in tongue or other areas in mouth
  • Ear pain

You should contact a medical professional any time you notice a sore or lesion anywhere on your body that doesn’t start to heal within a few days. And call us promptly if the sore or ulcer is anywhere around your mouth or lips.

Early treatment can save your life

Biannual screening ensures that we discover any oral cancers at their earliest, most treatable stages. As with other cancers, oral cancer is staged based on how far it has progressed: 

Stage 0 

Stage 0, carcinoma in situ, is the first visible sign of cancerous changes. Your dentist knows how to detect even this very early stage.

Stage I 

In stage I, an oral cancer tumor isn’t more than two centimeters. It hasn’t yet spread to the lymph nodes and is usually removed and eradicated successfully.

Stage II 

Stage II tumors are more than two centimeters but not more than four. Stage II oral cancer hasn’t yet metastasized and is both treatable and possibly curable.

Stage III 

If you have stage III oral cancer, the tumor is more than four centimeters, or the cancer has spread to at least one of the lymph nodes in the neck.

Stage IV 

Stage IV is advanced cancer of any size that has spread to other parts of the oral cavity — to one large or multiple small lymph nodes or distant parts of the body. 

After treatment, stage III and IV oral cancers are more likely to recur than are early-stage cancers. Treating the earliest stages of oral cancer increases the odds of a cure and decreases the odds of recurrence.

Reduce your risk for oral cancer

Men have twice the risk for oral cancer as women do. Although oral cancer can strike at any age, you’re more likely to develop it after age 40. If you’ve been infected with the human papilloma virus (HPV), you’re more susceptible to oral cancer.

Some risk factors, however, are within your control. To reduce the chances of developing oral cancer:

  • Quit smoking
  • Quit chewing tobacco
  • Limit or quit alcohol
  • Limit sun exposure

You are at greater risk if your immune system is weak due to certain medications or medical conditions.

Do not wait for symptoms

Once you notice oral cancer symptoms, it may be too late to treat them or stop them from spreading. Your best way to prevent and treat oral cancer is to undergo regular biannual screenings at your preventive dentistry appointment.

Keep your mouth and body healthy by calling our friendly and knowledgeable Miracle Smile Dental team at 469-765-3567 today to schedule a biannual preventive dentistry checkup. You can also use our convenient online booking tool.