Oral or mouth cancer is a condition where a tumor develops in the mouth lining. Most often, the tumor originates on the lips, gums, tongue, or palate (the roof of the mouth); less commonly, it is also possible for the tumor to develop closer to a patient’s throat on the tonsils, salivary glands, or pharynx.
Thanks to modern advances in surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy, oral cancer is often curable without any major complications. To ensure the best recovery, it is important to catch the disease as early as possible, so you can start treatment right away. One of the most effective ways of doing this is to undergo cancer screening on a regular basis, something which is now possible through dental agencies offering an oral cancer service.
But what is oral cancer screening and how can you do it? To explain, we’ve broken it down into three simple steps:
⦁ Book a Routine Dental Appointment
You don’t need to organize a special appointment for oral cancer dentistry; the examination can take place during a regular check-up appointment. There’s nothing you need to do beforehand to prepare for the test, other than the hygiene preparations you would use for a typical appointment.
Many dentists will carry out the screen as part of their usual checks. However, if you’re especially concerned, speak to your dentist and ask them if they can perform the screen.
⦁ The Test Itself
The most common type of oral cancer screening involves your dentist examining the inside of your mouth for sores or patches of tissue that are red or white. The dentist will also carefully feel along your gums and cheeks to look for any lumps or abnormalities that could indicate a problem.
An alternative test involves using a special dye that will cause any abnormal cells to become blue, thus revealing their position. Another possibility involves shining a bright light into your mouth that will illuminate abnormalities by making them appear brighter than healthy tissue.
Regardless of the test used, the screening will reveal any areas of your mouth that are abnormal in some way. It is important to note the presence of abnormalities does not always indicate oral cancer, and their identification is not cause for immediate concern.
⦁ Getting Your Results
If your dentist doesn’t discover any abnormalities, they can tell you so immediately. If that is the case, then no further action is required.
However, if an abnormality is identified, your dentist may do one of two things:
⦁ If they are uncertain of the nature of the abnormality or believe it to be a benign condition, they may schedule you for a follow-up appointment in a few weeks. This gives the tissue time to recover if the cause is something minor that doesn’t require medical intervention. Any further steps that need to be taken can be decided at the follow-up appointment on the basis of the results of your second examination.
⦁ If the dentist has reason to believe the abnormalities are cancerous, they may order a biopsy. This procedure involves some of the affected cells being collected and sent to a clinical laboratory for further testing, which can confirm or dismiss a cancer diagnosis.
The biopsy procedure may be carried out by your dentist, or you may be referred on to an oral cancer specialist. In either case, the results of your biopsy will determine the next steps of your treatment.
Oral cancer can be a scary diagnosis, but the key to beating it is to get diagnosed as early as possible. If you’ve not been for an oral cancer screen recently, it might be time to book a check-up.