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How Often Should You Have an Oral Cancer Screening?

Cancer is unfortunately a common illness in the United States, and oral cancer is one of the most prevalent types of cancer. Fortunately, early treatment of oral cancer can help manage this disease. At Dentist of West Covina, in Southern California, we have expertise in screening for and managing oral cancer cases.

What Is Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer is cancer inside the mouth and oral cavity. Cancer is a type of illness in which diseased cells grow too fast and take over healthy cells. In the mouth, cancer shows up as growths or sores, which may or may not be painful. Cancer can infect the oral cavity, cheeks, lips, tongue, soft and hard palates, throat, and even sinuses.

In the United States, approximately 50,000 people per year are diagnosed with oral cancer. When treated early, the oral cancer survival rate over five years is 84%, as long as it has not spread to adjacent organs and tissues such as the lymph nodes. In the case of the latter, the oral cancer five-year survival rates are at 65%, which is why it is important to get diagnosed and treated early on.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer can manifest in different ways depending on the person and where it is located. Some of the signs and symptoms of oral cancer include:

Oral cancer can look similar to other, less serious oral health problems, especially early on. This includes the common cold sore or canker sore. The general difference is that cancer lesions usually do not hurt, and canker sores should go away in a week or two. If you have a cold sore or canker sore that has not dissipated in two weeks, contact us at Dentist of West Covina for an oral cancer screening.

What Are the Chances of Getting Oral Cancer?

While anyone can get oral cancer at just about any age, certain lifestyles and genetic factors can make you more prone to getting it. For example, males are twice as likely to get oral cancer than females.

Other risk factors for oral cancer include:

* Tobacco and marijuana both have the same carcinogens in their smoke, even though THC may have anti-cancer properties. Thus, while marijuana smoke may be safer than tobacco, there is still a risk of cancer. If you are using marijuana for medical reasons, there are safer ways to ingest it than inhaling, and you should speak to your prescribing doctor on alternatives to smoking it.

How Often Should You Get an Oral Cancer Screening?

An oral cancer screening test by your dentist is quick and painless. It is part of your standard dental exam and checkup. The basic oral cavity cancer exam will include a comprehensive examination of all the different parts of your mouth, including:

The basic oral cancer examination is quick and easy and generally takes less than five minutes. The dentist may use a light, mirror, and tongue depression to look into the mouth. The dentist may also use a finger or two to palpate the skin under the chin and feel the tissue in and around the mouth and jaw.

For patients at higher risk of oral cancer, the dentist may have you rinse with a safe blue dye before the exam. This blue dye makes it easier to see any pathological cells inside the oral cavity.

The dentist is looking for various clinical signs when examining the inside of your mouth for possible oral cancer. These include bumps, ulcers, swelling, bleeding, and discolorations.

How Do Advanced Oral Cancer Examinations Work?

If the dentist suspects there may be oral cancer inside the mouth, additional testing and examination may be done. This includes the blue dye mentioned above, a special laser light, or a biopsy. Sometimes an acetic acid wash is used along with a light to get a better view of the potentially problematic area. A biopsy for oral cancer involves obtaining a small piece of tissue and sending it to a lab to be tested for cancer cells.

What Happens if Your Dentist Finds Signs of Oral Cancer?

First of all, it is important to understand that even if the dentist finds something in the exam that is concerning or typical, it does not mean it is cancer. If the dentist finds a possible cancerous area, a few options may be available. The dentist may perform a more advanced oral cancer exam (see above) or send a biopsy sample out to the lab for testing. Or, the dentist may want to monitor your condition to see if it changes by scheduling a second exam in a few weeks.

If a biopsy uncovers cancerous cells, then the dentist will go over your treatment options with you. If caught early enough, your chances of a full recovery are quite good.

How Can You Prevent Oral Cancer?

Everyone should get yearly dental checkups, so getting an oral cancer screening is easy if you simply visit the dentist for your regular oral health exam. Dentist of West Covina can conduct comprehensive oral cancer exams so you can rest assured you can be treated early.

We can also recommend lifestyle adjustments to help prevent or mitigate the chances of oral cancer. These lifestyle changes may include stopping smoking (of any kind), reducing alcohol use, applying lip balm with sunblock, and maintaining better overall health. By being honest with your dentist about your habits, your dentist can be more helpful with recommendations.

You can also perform self-examinations at home and contact us right away if you notice anything unusual.

If it’s been a while since your last oral cancer screening, it’s time to visit a dentist. Dentist of West Covina can help you maintain a healthy smile for years to come. Contact us today to schedule your oral cancer screening in West Covina in Southern California.

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