Oral Cancer Exam

Did you know that one person in the US dies every 60 minutes as a result of oral cancer?  According to the American Cancer Society, over 30,000 cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each year, with over 7000 of these cases resulting in the death of the patient. Fortunately, oral cancer can be diagnosed with routine cancer exams provided by Dr. Harasty, your general dentist, and your dental hygienists.  Oral cancer can be effectively treated especially when caught early!

The inside of the mouth is normally lined with a special type of skin called mucosa that is smooth and pink in color.  Any alteration in this appearance could be a warning sign for a pathological process, the most serious of which is oral cancer.  Oral cancer begins by producing no symptoms, which makes it hard to recognize without an exam. Pain does not always occur with pathology and, curiously, is not often associated with oral cancer, however, any patient with facial and/or oral pain without an obvious cause may also be at risk for oral cancer and should have an examination.  Although there are many types of oral cancer, the most common form is squamous cell carcinoma, which can occur anywhere in the mouth including the lip, cheeks, gums, tongue, throat, salivary glands, and face. 

What to Expect from an Oral Cancer Exam

The oral cancer examination is quick and completely painless. Dr. Harasty will look for abnormalities and feel the skin of the face, lips, salivary glands, and neck for unusual bumps. Some of the signs that will be investigated are patches of skin that change in color and texture and sores which bleed or fail to heal.  Chronic sore throat, hoarseness, and difficulty in chewing or swallowing can also be indicative of cancerous changes. Leukoplakia is a thickened white or gray, slightly raised lesion that can appear inside the mouth while erythroplakia is a red lesion that can be ulcerated.  Both of these types of changes may be cancerous. Soreness, lumps or the general thickening of tissue anywhere in the mouth, throat or neck can signal pathologic signs, and will be examined.  

It is also important to note that over 75% of oral cancers are linked with avoidable behaviors such as smoking, smokeless tobacco use, and excessive alcohol consumption. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) can infect the mouth and throat and cause cancers of the oropharynx (back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils). This is called oropharyngeal cancer. According to the CDC, HPV is thought to cause 70% of oropharyngeal cancers in the United States.    

We recommend performing an oral cancer self-examination monthly – your mouth is one of your body’s most important warning systems.  If any abnormalities are detected, Dr. Harasty will discuss recommendations and implement a treatment plan that is right for you.  She can also provide literature and information about options to help you discontinue dangerous behaviors such as tobacco and excessive alcohol use.