How, When, and Where Do I Get Checked for Oral Cancer?
Without a doubt, the best time and place to get an oral cancer exam is at your routine dental check up and cleaning appointment. It only takes a couple of minutes. Your dentist will depress your tongue and look as far down your throat as possible, checking the walls of your throat, the tonsilar areas, and the back portion of your tongue for any suspicious lesions. Texture, color, or any swollen areas are noticed.
The underside of your tongue, the floor of your mouth, the cheeks, lips, and hard and soft palates are also examined. The underside of the jaw, all areas of the neck, the temporo-mandibular joint, and the thyroid gland on the front of your neck are also carefully palpated, or examined by touch.
If x-rays are taken, all hard tissue areas are examined for anything that might suggest an abnormality.
The dentist can never be sure if a lesion is benign or malignant by x-ray, sight, or touch, and a biopsy is usually called for, or, at the least, a second opinion.
Special lights, and sometimes special dies are used as an adjunct to oral cancer exams but it has not been proven that these methods are more effective than the standard and thorough oral exam.
Heavy alcohol and tobacco usaage, plus a previous personal or familial history of cancer are factors that increase the risk of oral cancer.
Oral cancer, especially if discovered in the early stages, may have a great outcome as it is highly curable. Procrastination of treating a developing lesion could result in significant disfigurement, quality of life, or even death. Early detection is the key. An oral cancer exam at every dental check up is imperative.
American Dental Association-Life Member, Emeritus Fellow of Academy of General Dentistry, American Academy of Implant Dentistry