What’s a six letter word that nobody likes to talk about? Cancer.
While most patients never expect to discuss cancer when they visit us, screening for oral cancer is an important component of the oral health care we provide. Last year over 53,000 Americans were diagnosed with oral cancer. While this number may seem small in comparison to many other types of cancers, the death rate for oral cancer is higher than some other cancers with a higher rate of awareness, such as breast cancer or colon cancer.
What’s the good news? When it’s detected at an early state, oral cancers have survival rates between 80 and 90 percent. Unfortunately, most oral cancers are diagnosed at a later stage. The key? Detect oral cancers early. And your friendly neighborhood Burien dentist can help with that.
That’s why it’s so important to stay on top of your annual dental exams and teeth cleanings. During your check-ups, we routinely look for any signs of cancer or precancerous conditions in your mouth. And we also offer patients the option for a more thorough cancer screening called the VELscope examination, which helps to screen for early signs of oral cancer.
The VELscope exam is an easy and non-invasive screening that uses a hand held device that uses a light to examine your mouth’s tissues. If there are any areas of suspicion, we will request a biopsy with standard pathology tests. Depending on your age, health or family history, we recommend this simple test for many patients as an extension of their regular dental exams.
Oral Cancer Symptoms
– Red or white spots, or sores anywhere within the mouth.
– A sore that bleeds easily or does not heal.
– A lump or a rough spot of the skin or the lining of your mouth.
– Pain, tenderness, or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips.
– Loose teeth or poorly fitting dentures.
– Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving the jaw or tongue.
Because oral cancer symptoms are often painless, or show little in the form of physical changes, detecting oral cancer at an early stage can be difficult. Fortunately, we can help look and feel for possible early warning signs.
Tissue changes will occur normally within your mouth, and these are usually benign, such as when you bite the inside of your cheek. Sometimes these changes may mimic the symptoms of a cancerous symptom. On the other hand, if you notice any sore or discolored area that lasts for more than two weeks, please call us to have it looked over.
While April is considered Oral Cancer Awareness month, it’s good to be aware of this cancer throughout the year. Staying mindful of oral cancer and its symptoms, as well as regularly screening for it, will go a long way to improving early detection, and increase survival rates from this disease.