When people think of cancer, most do not think or oral cancer. You may think that it is not a common cancer and that may be why you don't see campaigns that specifically target oral cancer.
The fact is that oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer that men get, and men are twice as likely to get oral cancer as women. Not surprisingly, the two biggest risk factors for developing oral cancer are smoking and drinking alcohol.
The medical community considers we, your dentists, to be your first line of defense against oral cancer. This is because your mouth is our specialty and we keep track of the changes in your mouth. This is yet another reason for biannual visits to see us. If you do develop oral cancer, we can catch it early. We guarantee that your physician will appreciate it. As an added bonus, if you have been seeing us for a while, we will have your history, which could be helpful to the treating physician.
What Happens During an Exam?
When we screen for oral cancer, we check both inside and outside of your mouth including your head and neck. We check for a variety of signs that could be indicators of oral cancer. We look for lumps or sores, the tissue that appears irregular or that looks like it has changed or discolored. If we find something that we believe is suspicious we may recommend a biopsy.
When you come for a routine exam, we always ask how you have been feeling or how things are going. This is your opportunity to give us clues about the potential problems you may have. For example, if you have noticed little patches in your mouth that have turned red or white, we would want to hear about that, particularly if you have had them for more than a couple of weeks.
If your bite has changed, we want to know. Don't panic, it is usually some dental problem, but it could also be oral cancer. You will catch symptoms before we do, and they may not always be something we can see. For example, if you have difficulty swallowing or chewing or if you experience pain or numbness anywhere on your face or neck, we'd like to know. That could require further investigation.
The main point is that oral cancer is no different than any other cancer. The sooner you catch it the better the chance of eliminating it entirely. This is why biannual checkups are so important.