According to research conducted by the American Cancer society, more than 30,000 cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each year. More than 7,000 of these cases result in the death of the patient. About 75% of oral cancers are linked to behaviors such as smoking or other tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption. The good news is that such behaviors can be modified and also that oral cancer can easily be diagnosed with an annual oral cancer exam and effectively treated when caught in its earliest stages.
Oral cancer is a pathologic process which begins with an asymptomatic stage during which the usual cancer signs may not be readily noticeable. This makes the oral cancer examinations performed by the dentist critically important. Oral cancers can be of varied histologic types such as teratoma, adenocarcinoma and melanoma. The most common type of oral cancer is the malignant squamous cell carcinoma. This oral cancer type usually originates in lip and mouth tissues.
Oral cancer may occur in the oral cavity or maxillofacial region, including:
Oral cancer examinations
The oral cancer examination is a completely painless
process. During the visual part of the examination, the dentist will
look for abnormality and feel the face, glands and neck for unusual
bumps. Lasers which can highlight pathologic changes are also a
wonderful tool for oral cancer checks. The laser can “look” below the
surface for abnormal signs and lesions which would be invisible to the
If abnormalities, lesions, leukoplakia or lumps
are apparent, the dentist will implement a diagnostic impression and
treatment plan. In the event that the initial treatment plan is
ineffective, a biopsy of the area will be performed. The biopsy
includes a clinical evaluation which will identify the precise stage and
grade of the oral lesion.
During an oral cancer exam, both the dentist and dental hygienist will scrutinize the maxillofacial and oral regions, looking for signs of pathologic changes, including:
Red patches and sores – Red patches on the floor of the mouth, the front and sides of the tongue, white or pink patches which fail to heal and slow healing sores that bleed easily can be indicative of pathologic (cancerous) changes.
Leukoplakia – This is a hardened white or gray, slightly raised lesion that can appear anywhere inside the mouth. Leukoplakia can be cancerous, or may become cancerous if treatment is not sought.
Lumps – Soreness, lumps or the general thickening of tissue anywhere in the throat or mouth can signal pathological problems.
Diagnosis and treatment
If abnormalities, lesions, leukoplakia or lumps are apparent, the dentist will implement a diagnostic impression and treatment plan. In the event that the initial treatment plan is ineffective, a biopsy of the area will be performed. The biopsy includes a clinical evaluation which will identify the precise stage and grade of the oral lesion.
Oral cancer is deemed to be present when the basement membrane of the epithelium has been broken. Malignant types of cancer can readily spread to other places in the oral and maxillofacial regions, posing additional secondary threats. Treatment methods vary according to the precise diagnosis, but may include excision, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
During bi-annual check-ups, the dentist and hygienist will thoroughly look for changes and lesions in the mouth, but a dedicated comprehensive oral cancer screening should be performed at least once each year.
Dr. Couzens will be glad to answer any questions or concerns you may have about oral cancer.