Oral cancer can only be detected by taking a biopsy of a suspicious lesion and sending it to a lab for testing. This can tell us if the tissue contains any cancerous cells. However, your dentist can help you prevent and detect oral cancer early enough to treat it with regular oral cancer screenings that are performed during routine checkups.
We will perform an oral exam where we will look for symptoms of oral cancer such as:
We also use a special oral cancer detection tool known as Velscope, which is a handheld device that detects abnormalities in the mouth’s tissues that are otherwise not visible to the naked eye.
This helps us keep an eye out for signs of oral cancer. With this tool, we can spot changes in your tissue health and order a biopsy to get further testing done and check for oral cancer. Oral cancer is curable in the early stages.
There are behavioral and lifestyle changes you can make to decrease your risk of developing oral cancer. This includes abstaining from smoking and tobacco products, limiting your consumption of alcohol, limiting sun exposure, getting vaccinated to prevent HPV (HPV increases your risk for oral cancer), and eating a balanced and nutritious diet that is high in fruits and vegetables.
A weakened immune system also increases your risk for oral cancer so it is important to ensure that you’re in good overall health by treating other co-occurring health conditions. Most importantly, attend regular dental checkups and oral cancer screenings every 6 months.
By far the most common type of oral cancer is squamous cell carcinoma, accounting for more than 90% of all oral cancer cases. Your throat and mouth are lined with flat cells known as squamous cells which resemble fish scales when magnified with a microscope.
When these cells mutate, they can turn into squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cancer is usually developed on areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun, but it can also develop in the mouth.
This can occur in different regions of the mouth which all require different treatment responses, including the tongue, tonsils, gums, oropharynx (back of the throat), and the floor of the mouth.