April is Oral Cancer awareness month. I have blogged on this topic in the past but feel that it is so important that I am talking about it again!
Early detection of oral cancer is the key. Survival rates are improved the earlier the cancer is diagnosed. Most people see their dentist once or twice a year. While you will receive an excellent oral cancer screening at your dental office it is important to do regular oral self exams at home. The screening should include examination of both the neck and mouth. You should be looking for lumps or raised areas in the neck that are firm. The diagram below shows the areas in and around the mouth that should be checked.
In the mouth some of the signs to look for include:
1) sores or ulcers that are not healing on their own
2) white or red patches
3) dark brown or black patches
4) unusual bleeding
5) suddenly loose teeth
6) hoarse voice
7) pain to swallowing
8) numbness of the tongue, lips or chin
9) any progressive swelling
If any areas of concern are found they should be examined by your dentist or Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon. Initially sometimes a diagnosis can be made with the use of Toludine Blue. This is a synthetic dye that will bind to cancerous cells and stain the area blue. A definitive or final diagnosis is then made with a biopsy of the lesion. A sample of the tissue will be removed and will be sent to an oral pathologist for diagnosis. The pathologist will look at it under a microscope to determine if the area has the presence cancer cells. Any suspicious area should be immediately biopsied to rule out malignancy. More recently the use of a special device called a Veloscope can help to detect a cancerous lesion before there are any visible signs.
Some of the risk factors for the development of oral cancer include the following:
1) family history of oral cancer
2) history of smoking or use of chewing tobacco
3) history of alcohol use
4) long term use of alcohol based mouthwashes
5) use of betel nut
If you or your family members have any of the above risk factors regular oral examinations are essential. Ask your Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon to examine any suspicious areas in the mouth and biopsy them if necessary. For more information on diagnosis of Oral Cancer click the link here.