The Canadian Cancer Society has estimated that over 5,000 citizens will be diagnosed with oral cancer. In 2020, over 1,500 people were expected to die of the disease, but actual numbers surpassed that estimate.
Signs and symptoms are typically not obvious and when they do become noticeable, it may be too late. Fortunately, dentists and doctors have a way of detecting oral cancer before it can take over your overall health.
Detection and Diagnosis
Unlike other cancer types, oral carcinoma cells can be quickly identified and treated by a dental health professional. Current screenings for oral cancer have an 84% accuracy of detecting cases. By visiting your dentist or physician, you can get an early diagnosis and treatment and prevent worst-case scenarios.
Oral cancer screening guidelines dictate that adults over 20 years old should be screened once every 3 years while individuals over 40 should be screened once a year.
Family and preventive dentistry professionals use non-invasive oral screening methods. These tests use staining techniques that allow the dentist to isolate tissues and affected areas. When abnormalities are detected, that is only the time the procedure needs to turn to more invasive means by procuring a tissue sample for laboratory analysis.
Who Is at Risk?
Oral cancer can be caused and affected by a variety of factors. Because of these factors, it can be difficult to identify the exact profile of an oral cancer patient. However, according to previous hospital records, some people in certain groups can be more vulnerable in the face of oral cancer. This does not necessarily mean that oral cancer is inevitable if you belong to this group. Rather, it is a precaution and reminder to get your screening.
- nutritional deficiency
- lifestyle choices, like smoking
- environment, specifically sun exposure to the lips
- sexually transmitted infection (STI), specifically human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
- pre-existing conditions, like a weakened immune system
The groups that are often at risk of getting oral cancer are people who are over the age of 40. The risk is increased when this person smokes tobacco and drinks heavy alcohol. An individual with human papillomavirus (HPV) who may not be over the age line is still equally at risk. Men are also more susceptible to oral cancer than women. The chances also increase if they have an unhealthy diet and have daily prolonged sun exposure.
However, even if you may not have any of these risk factors, there’s still a chance of developing oral cancer, which is why screening and early detection are important. Oral cancer may be inherited and can go unnoticed until it has worsened.
Search for Symptoms
Just like any other malady, oral cancer also carries its own warning signs. Now, detecting these symptoms can be difficult, since some of the signs are similar to those of mild infections and non-serious illnesses. However, just to be safe, when you notice these symptoms, make an appointment with your dentist or physician.
Early warning signs for oral cancer include:
- hard and noticeable oral lumps
- numbness when biting
- bleeding cuts in the mouth that refuse to heal
- red and white mouth patches in the mouth
- nasal hemorrhage (epistaxis)
- moving of the teeth
- persistent gum swelling
- emergent ulcers
Serious and life-threatening symptoms gradually become visible in the late stages of oral cancer.
- earaches, difficulty breathing
- airway obstruction
- oral numbness
When you experience these in short bursts or at intervals, it’s best to go to your doctor or dentist to undergo oral cancer screening.
Oral Cancer Screening
Oral cancer screening is pain-free and should not be a cause for concern.
A standard oral screening appointment begins with a medical history check-up. Your family’s medical history is also examined to determine the likelihood of contracting oral cancer. You are then given a physical examination, which involves digital palpation and dental inspection.
If on the first visit, no serious issues are observed, the cancer screening ends.
However, if you test positive during the screening, you will then be subjected to higher levels of testing to determine the treatments that you specifically need. This can last up to several months, giving physicians time for further testing.
These laboratory tests can include:
- CBC (complete blood count)
- CT (computed tomography)
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans
- Panendoscopy (examination of the pharynx, larynx, upper trachea and esophagus)
Tumour cells will undergo a biopsy examination to determine whether it’s at the early or late stages. A complete oral cancer screening concludes with a detailed tumour board. This information sheet includes the type of cancer cells that are found — benign or malignant, tumour size, tumour location, and lymphatic node proximity. Taken into consideration, these factors will determine the treatments that you will undergo.
When diagnosed early, there is a high chance that tumour cells can be removed completely.
Appointments and Visits
Dental exams are just as important as your medical exam. Dentists recommend dental visits every 6 months. If you have a history of dental diseases, it is better to go every 3 to 4 months for a complete check-up and cleaning, depending on your dentist’s recommendation.
You can also examine yourself. Check your mouth in the mirror every month to see if there are changes, like white patches, sores, or lumps. This is especially crucial if you are among those at risk. If you notice any signs, call your dentist immediately. This way, they can determine whether it is oral cancer or another serious disease. Either way, you can get the treatment that you need.
Oral cancer is a serious and life-altering disease. However, it can be treated successfully if detected early on. Arranging for early screening is the best way for you to smile freely and live healthily.
If you are within or near the city of Sarnia and you want to be screened for oral cancer, visit Lambton Family Dental. We have a non-invasive oral screening technology called the VELscope, which can easily identify early potential oral tissue concerns including cancer. Call us now at (519) 344-5747 or email us at [email protected] to book an appointment.