Why Should I Get an Oral Cancer Screening?

Oral cancer is divided into two categories. Some occur in the oral cavity, while others are found in the oropharynx or throat. A professional oral cancer screening improves the chances of early detection, which may result in better treatment outcomes.

What is an oral cancer screening?

An oral cancer screening is an exam where Dr. Jennifer Schau looks for signs of cancer in the oral cavity. Cancers in the oral cavity may include mouth cancer, tongue cancer, and jaw cancer. The areas your Saginaw, MI dentist will examine during the screening include:

  • Inside the cheek lining
  • Roof of the mouth
  • Floor of the mouth
  • Lips
  • Gums
  • Tonsils
  • Tongue

Both physicians and dentists use oral cancer screenings to find cancer before symptoms can to develop. Treatment is much more likely to be successful if the cancer is detected early on.

What does an oral cancer screening entail?

During the screening process, Dr. Jennifer Schau, DDS looks for lesions or areas in the mouth or throat that have areas of abnormal tissue. They will be looking for thick white patches of tissue (leukoplakia) and areas that are abnormally red (erythroplakia). Usually, the exam only takes a few minutes.

What types of tests are used to screen for various types of cancer?

Sometimes dentists use special lights or dyes that can show signs of oral cancer. These types of tests may include:

  • Toluidine blue stain. This blue dye will coat mouth lesions and help identify areas that are more susceptible to becoming cancerous.
  • Fluorescence staining. A special light is used to shine in your mouth after you’ve rinsed with a fluorescent mouth rinse. It helps to identify abnormal tissue.
  • Exfoliative cytology. This test involves collecting cells from the mouth using a wooden stick, swab of cotton, or a brush. The cells are then observed under a microscope to detect anything that may be abnormal.

What causes oral cancer?

Some people who discover they have oral cancer don’t have any of the prominent risk factors. Others who have risk factors don’t ever develop cancer. Some of the most common oral cancer risk factors include:

  • Using tobacco products. About 90% of people diagnosed with oral cancer use tobacco products. Smoking or chewing tobacco increases the risk of developing oral cancer.
  • Alcohol use. Consuming alcohol greatly increases a smoker’s risk of developing oral cancer. 75 to 80% of all patients who have the condition consume alcohol. People who do not smoke, but do drink alcohol have a higher risk. But drinking alcohol and smoking can be a deadly combination.
  • Sun exposure. About one-third of the patients with lip cancer have occupations that require them to be exposed to the sun for prolonged periods.
  • Poor nutrition. A diet low in vegetable and fruit consumption increases the risk of developing oral cancer.
  • Age. As a person ages, the likelihood of developing oral cancer increases. About half of all the cases are individuals over 65. About 90% are older than 45.
  • HPV infection. Some recent studies have linked the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) with oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers.

Factors that Increase or Decrease the Risk of Oral Cavity and Nasopharyngeal Cancers

By being aware of and avoiding the above-mentioned risk factors, most oral cancers can be prevented. Some steps you can take to help decrease your risk of these types of cancers include:

  • Avoiding tobacco and alcohol use altogether. If you currently use tobacco products, now is a good time to stop. If you consume alcoholic beverages, reduce your intake. Most of the time, oral cancers can be prevented by not using tobacco and alcohol products.
  • Staying out of the sun by staying inside or in the shade during the middle of the day can help avoid cancer of the lips. A wide-brimmed hat can help minimize exposure too. If you know you will be outside for a long time, use lip protection with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of at least 15.
  • Eating less high-fat meat, processed food, and dairy products. Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day and six to 11 servings of bread, cereal, rice, grain, beans, or pasta.
  • You can examine your own mouth monthly to see if anything looks unusual. At least yearly, schedule an appointment with Dr. Schau for an oral cancer screening.

Oral Cancer Screening Can Save Lives

Early detection is critical when it comes to saving lives. If you have a family history of oral cancer, use tobacco products, or consume alcohol regularly, your risk factors can increase. Dr. Schau recommends having an oral cancer screening during your routine exams. If you are at a higher risk than normal, you should request a cancer screening every four to six months. Contact Jennifer Schau, DDS today to schedule your exam, or fill out this appointment request online. It could just save your life.

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