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Oral Cancer Exam

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Oral Cancer Exam

Cancer screening is common, but when most people think of it, they conjure up the image of the discomfort of a mammogram or a colonoscopy. What most people don’t think of is oral cancer screenings. While they may often fly under the radar, it’s important to regularly screen for oral cancer as it includes cancers of the lips, gums, tongue, palate, throat, sinuses, or just about anything directly in or surrounding the mouth.

Oral Cancer

Regular Check-Ups

The American Cancer Society states that men are twice as likely to develop oral cancer over women, and those men over fifty are at the highest risk. Your likelihood of developing oral cancer can depend on lifestyle or family history. Tobacco users are often at the highest risks, whether they smoke it or chew it, though those who chew are at a greater risk for cheek, gums and lip linings. Those who consume alcohol in excess are at six times the risk of those who consume little to none. Just as the sun can lead to skin cancer, it can also lead to oral cancer especially around the lips. Other risk factors include a family history of cancer and certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Even without such lifestyles, it is important to have your dental provider screen you for oral cancers, as upwards of 25% of those diagnosed are non smokers and drink few to no alcoholic beverages. Basically put, just like many cancers, it can happen to just about anyone – even if they don’t have the risk factors for it. But unlike many cancers, screening for oral cancers can be quick, easy and painless.

Many dentists and oral care providers now check for oral cancers during your regular cleaning appointments, and it’s over before you even realized it started!  Once your dentist is about to begin the exam, you’ll have to remove dentures and any foreign objects from your mouth. The dentist will look for abnormalities such as swelling or discoloration along with asymmetry in the face, neck, lips and mouth. This visual check is correlated with your medical history, to make sure there isn’t another cause for any areas of concern.

The dentist will also use his or her hands to feel your neck and jaw for lumps that could indicate cancer. The same inspection is done to lips and cheeks, along with a visual inspection looking for any red or white patches. The tongue is inspected for abnormalities such as swelling or discoloration on all sides. Your dentist will also visually inspect the inside of your mouth and the back of the throat for any cancer indicators. The exam will end with one more light prod as your dentist checks for lumps or pain between your chin and the floor of your mouth by gently pressing them between two fingers.

It may seem like a lot, but this usually done in less than five minutes and is worth it for your health. Early detection can help to diagnose cancer while it has the greatest chance of being treatable. So the next time you head to the dentist, ask for an oral cancer exam, if your provider doesn’t already include it. Your mouth will thank you.

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