Oral cancer is a serious disease that often goes undetected until it reaches later stages. An oral cancer screening can identify symptoms of cancer in its earlier stages to improve your chances for a successful treatment.
At Smiles for Life in Bridgewater, VA, Drs. Joe McIntyre, Dan Whiting, Kelsey Rockey, and Bryant Ash perform oral cancer screenings during routine dental exams so that they can recognize potential signs of oral cancer as soon as possible. Even for patients with low risk factors, we recommend a screening twice a year during a regular appointment.
The Importance of Oral Cancer Screenings
Because oral cancer is often not diagnosed until the late stages, the survival rate is about 60 percent. However, regular oral cancer screenings can catch warning signs before they become serious. Early treatment may provide better treatment outcomes. If you are concerned about oral cancer, our team can give you advice on how to minimize your risks.
Risk Factors for Oral Cancer
The goal of an oral cancer screening is to detect lesions and other potential symptoms in the early stages. There are certain factors which can increase your risk of oral cancer, including:
- Tobacco use
- Heavy alcohol use
- Significant sun exposure
- Previous cancer diagnosis
- Family history of oral cancer
- Exposure to HPV
In addition, men are more likely to develop oral cancer than women. If you are at a high risk for oral cancer, your dentist may recommend more frequent screenings. They can also suggest lifestyle changes to reduce your risks.
While oral cancer is often undetectable to the untrained eye in its early stages, it is associated with symptoms such as:
- Red or white patches on the tongue, gums, or other soft tissue
- A persistent sore or irritation
- Swelling, lumps, or roughness in a certain area
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
- Discomfort or numbness
- Sore throat or hoarseness
- Sensation that something is stuck in the throat
- Changes in how your teeth fit together
If you have symptoms which last for two weeks or more, schedule an appointment with your dentist. Even if they are not indicative of cancer, these signs may be connected to other health concerns.
What to Expect during a Screening
There are two components of an oral cancer screening. First, Dr. McIntyre, Whiting, Rockey, or Ash will perform a visual examination, during which they will check your lips, gums, tongue, the inside of your cheeks, and other areas for any visible abnormalities. They may use a light and mirror to see more clearly.
When it comes to your oral health, prevention is often the best cure.
Next, your dentist will conduct a physical exam to feel for unusual bumps or masses. They may ask you if certain areas cause pain or discomfort when touched. If Dr. McIntyre, Whiting, Rockey, or Ash notices any lesions or sores, they may order a biopsy. During a biopsy, your doctor takes a small sample of tissue and send it to a lab to test for cancer.
Monitor Your Oral Health Carefully
When it comes to your oral health, prevention is often the best cure. At Smiles for Life, oral cancer screenings are just one of many preventive services we provide. For more information, contact our office online or call (540) 828-2312 to speak to a member of our team today.