Oropharyngeal cancer, or “oral” cancer, is a disease that occurs when malignant cells form in the mouth or throat. This can include areas such as the back of the tongue, tonsils, walls of the throat, or palate. Three of the leading causes of oral cancer are heavy alcohol use, a history of smoking, and being infected with HPV (human papillomavirus). The signs of the disease are typically subtle and painless, which can cause it to progress without being noticed. This is why preemptive screenings are so important.
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, approximately 49,750 Americans will be diagnosed within the next year. Fortunately, with oral cancer screenings, our experienced dentist can help detect the disease early, which significantly increases the rate of survival by preventing harmful cells from spreading.
Who Is At Risk For Oral Cancer?
In addition to those with a history of tobacco use, heavy alcohol consumption, and HPV, factors that have been linked to a high risk of oral cancer include the following: significant sun exposure (increases chances of lip cancer), genetic predisposition, older age, and a diet low in fruits and vegetables. To reduce your risk of potentially developing these unhealthy tissues, it is best to adjust your lifestyle accordingly and schedule routine screenings, which can be the most powerful method of preventing the disease from becoming life-threatening.
What Are The Signs Of Oral Cancer?
Signs or symptoms of oral cancer can include anything on the following list. As always, it is best to schedule an appointment with your doctor if any of these issues are persistent or cause discomfort.
- A persistent sore throat or trouble swallowing.
- Trouble opening the mouth or moving the tongue.
- Ear pain, coughing up blood, or a change in voice.
- A lump in the back of the mouth, throat, or neck.
What Are The Benefits Of A Screening?
An early diagnosis of the abnormal cells can greatly increase the chance of recovery and survival. Since symptoms are typically not obvious in the beginning, a screening can catch the disease before it has had the chance to progress and spread. As a result, you are able to seek immediate treatment for your condition.
The Oral Cancer Screening Process
Dr. Robin Rutherford offers oral cancer screenings as a preventative test to be completed during a regular oral exam. The screening helps detect any abnormalities in and around the mouth that might reveal cancerous cells. Dr. Rutherford uses one of the most powerful detection tools available, called the VELscope® Vx, for assisting in the discovery of potential oral abnormalities that are otherwise unseen to the naked eye.
During the screening, Dr. Rutherford will guide the VELscope Vx® light device around the inside of the mouth. Healthy tissue will reflect the light; abnormal, unhealthy tissue will absorb the light and appear dark. The entire process takes about two minutes to complete and is generally a very comfortable procedure. If any unhealthy tissue presents itself, Dr. Rutherford may suggest a biopsy, which will be tested to learn whether the cells are cancerous.
Early signs of the condition are often barely noticeable; therefore, it is essential to come in for screenings at least twice a year. If the cancer is caught early, it is not likely to have spread elsewhere in the body and can often be contained. When considering scheduling an appointment for a screening, a dental professional will be most helpful because they will look at multiple factors including dental history and lifestyle characteristics.
Our team at The Art of Dentistry would be happy to set up an oral screening to assess the health of your mouth and throat. When you call to schedule your bi-annual dental cleaning, let the office know you would also like to have an oral cancer screening.