Oral cancer is often deemed the “forgotten disease,” because it kills more people than testicular cancer, cervical cancer and cancer of the brain each year and receives little publicity in return. Each year, over 30,000 Americans contract oral cancer, and only 57% of these people will live for more than five years without treatment.
Many people believe that if they abstain from tobacco and alcohol use, oral cancer will not affect them. Tobacco and alcohol use does contribute to oral cancer; however, 25% of those diagnosed abstain from both substances.
How does the cancer screening process work?
Essentially, bright blue light is shone into the mouth to expose changes and lesions that would otherwise be invisible to the naked eye. One of the biggest difficulties in diagnosing oral cancer is that its symptoms look similar to symptoms of less serious problems.
The healthy soft tissue of the mouth naturally absorbs the frequency of blue light. Healthy areas beneath the surface of the soft tissue show up green, and the problem areas become much darker.
Here are some of the advantages of a screening:
- Can be combined with digital photography.
- Detects lesions, white and red patches.
- Detects problem areas that cannot be seen under white light.
- Exposes precancerous and cancerous tissue.
- Helps dentists check that diseased soft tissue is completely removed.
- Helps diagnose oral cancer in its earliest stages, exponentially increasing the chance of survival.
- Quick, painless examinations.
How is the examination performed?
The examination literally takes only two or three minutes. It is a painless and noninvasive procedure that saves many lives every single year.
Here is a brief overview of what an examination is like:
Initially, the dentist will perform a regular visual examination of the whole lower face. This includes the glands, tongue, cheeks and palate as well as the teeth. Next a pre-rinse solution is swilled around the mouth for slightly less than a minute. The dentist provides special eyewear to protect the integrity of the retinas. The lights in the room are dimmed to allow a clear view of the oral cavity.
Lesions and other indicators of oral cancer are easily noticeable because they appear much darker under a specialized light.
If symptoms are noted, the dentist may take a biopsy there and then to determine whether or not this is oral cancer. The results of the biopsy dictate the best course of action from there. Otherwise, another oral cancer screening is performed in one year’s time.
If you have any questions or concerns about oral cancer screening, please contact our office.