Annually, oral cancer claims 9,750 lives. That is almost equivalent to one death per hour.
The disease usually affects the lips and the tongue, although it may affect other areas in the mouth like the linings of the cheeks, gums, and the roof and floor of the mouth.
Smoking and heavy drinking have been strongly linked to oral cancer. If you have poor oral hygiene, have been taking medications that weaken the immune system, or have been experiencing long-term rubbing in your fillings or dental appliance, your risk of getting oral cancer is also significantly high.
Early detection can save your life
Oral cancer is one of the most lethal diseases, with the signs usually going unnoticed for years. This is because some of the symptoms of oral cancer are not easily recognizable, nor do some of these cause pain or discomfort.
Even worse, oral cancer is capable of producing secondary tumors. That simply means that even if you survive your first brush with the disease, there is still a risk of contracting it again. According to studies, you can get another encounter with oral cancer five to ten years after the first one.
The number of new cases of oral cancer being reported has been steadily increasing over the past few years. Medical experts are still unsure about the cause of this alarming trend.
Fifty percent of people that have been diagnosed with oral cancer live more than five years if they are diagnosed and treated.
That number increases substantially if the cancer cells get detected before these spread to other organs. This is why it is critical to undergo an oral cancer screening.
Oral cancer screening, Fort Lauderdale local dentists say, allows healthcare professionals to remove cancer cells at an early stage.
But how, exactly, is an oral cancer screening conducted?
Overview of the process
Cancer screening is a straightforward process consisting of two parts: a visual and a physical exam. If you are coming to a clinic for teeth whitening, Fort Lauderdale dentists can also conduct the test during the same visit.
During the visual exam part of the oral cancer screening, your dentist will look at your mouth and nearby regions, including your neck and nose, to look for signs of oral cancer.
Before beginning this phase of the screening, you will be asked to remove your dental appliances. This will allow your dentist to have a clear view of the areas being checked. Your dentist may ask you to either sit or lie down.
Your dentist will check for a few things, including:
- Other abnormalities
For this phase, your dentist will use a few simple tools like a tongue depressor, mirror, and light.
The whole visual exam is similar to a general check-up done by a doctor.
For the second part of the oral screening, your dentist will touch different parts of your face, including the cheeks, jaws, and oral cavity.
During the test, your dentist may ask you if you feel pain or discomfort in the areas that have been touched. This is because oral cancer can cause pain. But do take note that swelling that is caused by the disease is typically painless.
You may also be asked to swallow during the inspection of your throat.
The whole oral cancer screening process lasts less than five minutes.
Evaluating the results
It is vital to remember that oral cancer screening is designed as a precautionary measure. By no means is it a diagnostic tool.
Even if the results come back negative, you may be asked by your dentist to come in for regular tests. This is particularly true if you belong to the category of people who are at high risk of contracting oral cancer.
If your dentist notices anything unusual, he may ask you to come back for another appointment to see if there are changes in the areas that he checked.
In other cases, he will recommend a biopsy. In a biopsy, tissue samples from the suspicious areas are taken and sent to a lab for further examination.
Take note that some abnormalities found during the oral cancer screening process are not necessarily a sign that you have cancer.
An opportunity to learn
Visiting your dentist for oral cancer screening should not just be all about undergoing a test.
Beyond that, you should take your appointment with your dentist as an opportunity to learn more about oral cancer, as well as learn what exactly you can do to reduce your risk of getting oral cancer.
Do not hesitate to ask questions and get the right advice from a qualified professional. Apart from early detection, oral cancer screening can help you make the right lifestyle choices that can drastically cut your risk of developing the disease.