Oral Cancer and Tobacco Use

Posted on: November 16, 2017

At a routine dental visit, we can help detect signs of oral cancer with an oral cancer screening. While most people do not schedule an appointment with their dentist to determine if they have oral cancer, it is possible for a dentist to notice the signs early. Oral cancer impacts more than 30,000 individuals every single year. Unfortunately, oral cancer is difficult to treat after it advances. The 5-year survival rate is merely 50 percent.

Thus, early detection of oral cancer is essential to preventing its growth. This is precisely why everyone should visit the dentist at least two times per year and undergo a screening for oral cancer.

How Oral Cancer is Detected

During the oral cancer screening, the dentist examines the patient’s tongue, mouth and nearby tissue for signs of cancer and other abnormalities. This screening is much more than a superficial scanning of the mouth. The dentist closely examines and feels the face, mouth, lips, tongue, neck, salivary glands, thyroid gland and lymph nodes. A patient who has dentures or partials will need to take them out in order to analyze the full mouth.

In some instances, additional testing is necessary to identify pre-cancerous lesions and cancerous lesions. This testing often makes use of special lights. It is imperative to identify pre-cancerous lesions and cancerous lesions as early as possible to initiate a treatment program.

The Risk for Oral Cancer

Those who smoke, drink alcohol and/or use smokeless tobacco, face an especially high risk for the development of oral cancer. However, this is not to say those who do not smoke or drink should avoid going to the dentist and/or receiving basic oral cancer screenings during a checkup. People of all ages and lifestyles are at risk for oral cancer. In recent years, there has been an increase in oral cancer amongst young individuals.

This increase has proven true for young people who do not smoke and/or drink. This is attributed to the the spike in human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a sexually transmitted virus known to spur cancer of the oral cavity as well as the vulva, cervix, vagina, penis and anus. It is also important to note those who have no such risk factors are also diagnosed with oral cancer. Therefore, screening is recommended for every single person.

If you suspect you have oral cancer, you should immediately report the symptoms to your dentist or another healthcare provider. It is possible that these symptoms can be caused by benign (non-cancerous) conditions yet you should still take a trip to the dentist for a thorough analysis.

The Best Method of Detection

Oral health experts agree routine dental exams are the best way to detect oral cancer as soon as possible. Dentists really do have the main role in the detection of oral cancer as they work closely with the mouth. So don’t assume your trip to the dentist will simply spot cavities, gum disease and clean your teeth. It just might save your life.


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