Ask Your Dentist: Oral Cancer Check
Oral Cancer Facts
Approximately 43,000 people in the United States will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer this year, with 1 person dying from oral cancer every hour. When diagnosed and treated at an early stage, oral cancer has an 80-90% survival rate. Unfortunately, the majority of oral cancer cases are found at a late stage, which subsequently yields an overall death rate of about 43% at five years from diagnosis.
What are the Risk Factors for Oral Cancer?
Alcohol and tobacco use are major risk factors for oral cancer, and excessive sun exposure can cause cancer of the lips. However, there is a new culprit in town: HPV (Human Papillomavirus). Due to the increasing spread of HPV, the fastest growing sector of oral cancer patients is healthy, nonsmoking young adults.
Because we work in patients’ mouths, it should be of no surprise that dentists are often the primary health care provider who first discovers oral cancer. Patients also tend to visit their dentist more often than their primary care physician. At your next checkup, ask your dentist to look and feel for oral cancer signs. It will only take a minute and is completely harmless. If your dentist sees any suspicious lesions, ask him/her to use the VELscope® VX oral cancer screening tool or refer you to an oral surgeon for a possible biopsy. Notify your dentist of any sore, discoloration, irritation, hoarseness, difficulty in swallowing, or unilateral earaches that have not self-resolved within a two-week period. These should be considered suspicious and warrant further analysis and possible referral to an oral surgeon or an ear, nose and throat doctor.
What to Expect During an Oral Cancer Screening
Your dentist will inspect your face, neck, lips, and mouth to look for any signs of oral cancer. With both hands, he or she will feel the external area under your jaw and the outside of your neck, checking for lumps (enlarged lymph nodes) that may suggest inflammation. If these nodes are painless, but hard and enlarged, oral cancer may be suspected. You will also be asked to stick out your tongue so it can be checked for swelling or abnormal color or texture. Then, using a small piece of gauze, your dentist will lightly pull your tongue to each side to fully visualize its edges, a common location for precancerous and cancerous lesions to occur. Additionally, your dentist will visually examine the roof and floor of your mouth, the back of your throat, the tonsils, and the gums for any discolorations or lesions.
What is VELscope VX?
VELscope VX is a wireless handheld device that uses tissue fluorescence to identify oral abnormalities early. Many times, VELscope VX can detect abnormalities months or even years before they can be identified with the naked eye! VELscope VX is painless and quick; it can be used in only two minutes! While it does not diagnose oral cancer, it can help detect precancerous and cancerous lesions that we may not be able to see otherwise. If you are a high-risk patient for oral cancer (alcohol or tobacco user, or high risk for HPV), it is recommended you have the VELscope VX exam done with your oral cancer examination. Remember, early detection yields the best results!
Ask your Smile Generation-trusted dentist for a VELscope VX oral cancer screening today! Don’t have a dentist? Find one at SmileGeneration.com.