During a typical dental visit, a dentist will clean and examine your teeth and may also perform a cancer screening. This screening is used to look for suspicious growths in the mouth, which may turn out to be cancerous cells. If you use tobacco, your chances of developing mouth cancer are greater, but it may be treatable if it is detected early. Here's what you need to know about mouth cancer testing and treatment:
What Is A Cancer Screening?
One of the last steps of a standard dental visit is a cancer screening. During this, the dentist will hold your tongue and examine all areas around it. He or she may also feel your neck, look at your gums, and examine other parts of your mouth. As the dentist does this, he or she will look for:
- Patches on the gums that are red or white
- Thick or lumpy spots
If you use tobacco, the dentist may also ask you additional questions, which may include:
- Do you have trouble swallowing?
- Are there areas in your mouth that hurt?
- Are you experiencing any numbness on your lips or tongue?
Dental cancer screenings are not comprehensive exams. In other words, they can only spot problems that can be seen with the eyes. If your dentist notices anything unusual, he or she may refer you to an oral surgeon or an oral oncologist, or to a hospital for further testing.
What Happens Next?
When you go to a specialist for further testing, there are several things that may be done. The main thing the specialist will do is take a sample of the cells from the suspicious area, and this is called a biopsy. This sample will be analyzed in a lab, and the results will usually indicate if the cells are cancerous or not.
If the test reveals that the cells are not cancerous, you may not need any treatment for your mouth. If the test detects cancer, the specialist might run more tests to find out exactly what type of cancer it is and to determine what areas of the body are affected.
How Is It Treated?
Mouth cancer can be treated in a variety of ways, but it usually depends on exactly where the cancer is located. Here are some of the options that are commonly used:
- Removing the tumor – If the cancer is isolated in one area, a dental specialist might be able to simply remove the tumor from the mouth.
- Radiation therapy – Radiation is conducted by placing a beam of radiation directly at the cancerous cells. It does not hurt and lasts only a few minutes.
- Chemotherapy – This procedure can be completed through an IV or oral medication. It has a lot of side-effects, but it can be very effective at destroying cancerous cells.
Every case is different though, and your dental specialist will determine a course of action for you. This may include one of these treatment options, or it could be a combination of all of them.
According to Mouth Healthy, approximately 42,000 Americans are diagnosed with some type of mouth cancer each year. The good news is that more than 64% of these individuals survive for at least five years after having it treated. The success rates of beating cancer are always better if the cancer is detected early on. The longer the cancer remains in the body, the more likely it is to spread to other body parts.
If you suspect that you may have mouth cancer, go to the dentist. A basic dental cancer screening can help detect mouth cancer at an early stage, and this is important if you want to beat it.