The Importance of Oral Cancer Screening
There are several reasons why your dentist insists on you making those bi-annual trips to their office. One of them is so that they could carry out oral cancer screening. This is a test done by a doctor or dentist to detect cancer signs or precancerous conditions in the mouth.
The examination is carried out with the sole aim of identifying mouth cancer early. This way, you stand a higher chance for a cure. When left to progress, oral cancer may become incurable, and your expenses will end up piling.
Although most medical professionals perform oral cancer screenings during routine checkups, some may use additional tests to help identify regions of abnormal cells in the mouth. Whether or not healthy people with zero risk factors for oral cancer should still be screened is a matter that many medical organizations continue to disagree on. Even though there is no proof that oral cancer screenings reduce your risk of perishing from oral cancer, it is upon your dentist to decide if it is the right test for you depending on your risk factors.
Oral Cancer Risk Factors
Although not backed up by studies, people with high oral cancer risk are more likely to reap from oral cancer screening. Here are some of the factors that increase your risk of developing oral cancer:
- Use of Tobacco: Using cigars, pipes, cigarettes, sniffing, and chewing tobacco is the largest contributor to neck and neck cancer. Smoking pipe is linked to lip cancer while chewing, and sniffing tobacco contributes to cancer of the gums, cheeks, and the lips’ inner surface. Passive smoking also increases one’s risk of developing neck and head cancer.
- Alcohol: As you may be aware, heavy alcohol consumption heightens neck and head cancer risk. The risk is even higher when you consume both alcohol and tobacco.
- Prolonged exposure to the Sun: There is a connection between unprotected sun exposure and cancer in the lip region. How do you reduce your risk of lip cancer? Start by limiting your exposure to direct sunlight and other UV sources.
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV): According to research, getting infected with HPV makes you more susceptible to oral cancer. This is supported by the many recent cases of HPV-related cancer at the tongue base and tonsils. You can get HPV by having sexual relations with people carrying the virus. You can shield yourself from HPV by being vaccinated and having a limited number of sexual partners.
- Gender: Compared to their male counterparts, females are at an increased risk of developing this cancer.
- Fair Skin: People with fair skin are more likely to develop oral cancer.
- Age: Although anyone can get oral cancer, people ages 45 years and above are at an increased risk.
Other risk factors include poor dental hygiene and nutrition, weakened immunity, and the use of marijuana.
Risks of Oral Cancer Screening
Although experts say this is an efficient test, there are some limitations related to oral cancer screening. They include:
- It Could Require Additional Tests: It is not uncommon for people to have sores in the mouth, most of which are non-cancerous. Unfortunately, an oral exam cannot differentiate between cancerous and non-cancerous sores. Because of this, your dentist at Luv Pediatric Dentistry will have to perform an additional test to determine the underlying issue.
- The Screening Detects Limited Mouth Cancers: Not all mouth cancers can be detected by an oral exam. Areas of abnormal cell growth aren’t visible to the naked eye. This way, tiny cancerous lesions could go unnoticed.
- It Can’t Save Lives: Yes, oral cancer screening helps your doctor detect early signs of oral cancer, and no, it doesn’t prevent you from dying from oral cancer. If caught early, you have some chances of survival. This, however, isn’t the case when the cancer is detected in its advanced stages, as the screening can do nothing to reverse your condition.
What to Expect
Typically, an oral cancer screening requires no special preparation as it is performed during a routine checkup. During the exam, the dentist looks inside your mouth to see if there are any lesions or mouth sores. They also feel your mouth tissues to detect pain, lumps, or any other abnormalities. Your dentist may also check your neck and throat for lumps.
To determine areas of abnormal cells, dentists perform additional tests. One such test involves using dye to accentuate the abnormal cells. The dentist may ask you to rinse your mouth using a unique blue dye before the exam. If there are any abnormal cells in your mouth, they will take up the blue color.
Your dentist might also shine a light in your oral cavity during the exam. This light gives health tissue a dark appearance and abnormal tissue a white appearance.