Oral Cancer Screening
Oral cancer affects nearly 35,000 Americans every year. The keys to surviving oral cancer are early detection and early treatment. This starts with a regular oral cancer screening – at least once every six months. An oral cancer screening takes just minutes, is pain-free and can be performed during regular dental exams. If you are male, a regular oral cancer screening is especially critical: Oral cancer is more than twice as common in men as it is in women. Other people at high risk of oral cancer include people over the age of 60, tobacco smokers and heavy drinkers.
Oral Cancer Screening – FAQs
Why is this done?
The goal of oral cancer screening is to detect mouth cancer or precancerous lesions that may lead to mouth cancer at an early stage — when cancer or lesions are easiest to remove and most likely to be cured.
But no studies have proved that oral cancer screening saves lives, so not all organizations agree about the benefits of an oral exam for oral cancer screening. Some groups recommend screening, while others don’t.
People with a high risk of oral cancer may be more likely to benefit from oral cancer screening, though studies haven’t clearly proved that. Factors that can increase the risk of oral cancer include:
- Tobacco use of any kind, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco and snuff, among others
- Heavy alcohol use
- Previous oral cancer diagnosis
- History of significant sun exposure, which increases the risk of lip cancer
Ask your dentist whether oral cancer screening is appropriate for you. Also ask about ways you can reduce your risk of oral cancer, such as quitting smoking and not drinking alcohol.
Do I have to do anything to prepare for this screening?
Oral cancer screening doesn’t require any special preparation. Oral cancer screening is typically performed during a routine dental appointment.
What can I expect during this procedure?
During an oral cancer screening exam, your dentist looks over the inside of your mouth to check for red or white patches or mouth sores. Using gloved hands, your dentist also feels the tissues in your mouth to check for lumps or other abnormalities.
If you wear complete or partial dentures that are removable, your dentist or doctor will ask you to remove them so that the tissue underneath can be examined.