How to Reduce Your Risk of Oral Cancer Through Screenings?

How to Reduce Your Risk of Oral Cancer Through Screenings?

Mar 07, 2024

Oral cancer, part of the head and neck cancer group, impacts mouth and throat tissues. This includes areas like the lips, gums, tongue, the inner side of cheeks, the palate, and the throat. Despite its rarity compared to other cancers, recognizing risk factors and ensuring consistent screenings for oral cancer is crucial. This article from the Center for Oral Health in San Diego, CA, will discuss the causes of oral cancer, why screenings are vital, what the screening process involves, when to start getting screened, signs and symptoms, and how often you should be screened.

Understanding Oral Cancer and Its Origins

Oral cancer arises from uncontrolled cell growth in the mouth and throat, leading to lesions or tumors. The uncontrolled cell growth is caused by damage to the DNA in these cells. There are a few key risk factors that can increase someone’s chance of developing oral cancer:

  • Tobacco use – Smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, and snuff are major risk factors. Tobacco use is a major contributor, with 80% of cases tied to it. The risk escalates with the duration and intensity of tobacco consumption. The risk increases the longer and more frequently someone uses tobacco.
  • Heavy alcohol use – Frequent and heavy consumption of alcohol increases your risk, especially when combined with tobacco use.
  • HPV infection – The human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause cellular changes and damage in the mouth, leading to cancer.
  • Age – Most diagnoses occur after age 50.
  • Gender – Gender plays a role, with a higher incidence in men compared to women.
  • Sun exposure – Excessive sun exposure can cause lip cancer.
  • Diet – Dietary habits also influence risk, particularly a diet lacking in fruits and vegetables.

So limiting your use of tobacco and alcohol, practicing safe sex, eating a healthy diet, and using sun protection for your lips can help lower your risk of developing oral cancer.

Why are regular oral cancer screenings important?

Regular oral cancer screenings near you and dental exams are crucial for reducing your risk of oral cancer. Screenings and early detection make a big difference for the following reasons:

  • Oral cancer is most treatable and curable when found early. The 5-year survival rate for localized cancers confined to the mouth is 83%. This drops to only 38% once the cancer spreads.
  • Small precancerous lesions and early-stage tumors can be more easily removed before they grow and spread.
  • Early intervention prevents the cancer from advancing and improves outcomes. This can reduce the need for intensive treatments like radiation and chemotherapy.
  • Detecting cancer before any symptoms arise improves prognosis. Symptoms often don’t appear until the cancer is more advanced.
  • Screenings detect any suspicious areas that need further testing and biopsy. This quick action helps diagnose cancer faster.

Regular oral cancer screenings and dental visits allow dentists to thoroughly examine your mouth, spot warning signs, and take preventive action to keep you healthy.

What does an oral cancer screening involve?

During a routine dental visit, your dentist conducts an oral cancer screening, a swift and non-invasive process. This involves:

  • Check your face, neck, lips, and entire mouth for any abnormalities
  • Examining your face, neck, lips, and oral cavity for any unusual signs
  • Examine all surfaces of the tongue, the back of your throat, gums, the roof of your mouth, and the inside of your cheeks
  • Use white light and a blue fluorescent dye to detect any suspicious lesions
  • Take tissue samples or biopsies if they see any concerning areas for further testing
  • Ask about symptoms like sores, pain, numbness, or trouble chewing/swallowing
  • Discuss your medical history and risk factors like smoking or alcohol use

The visual inspection combined with a manual exam only takes a few minutes. Suppose your dentist finds any areas of concern. In that case, they may order imaging tests like an oral cancer screening with ViziLite®, brush biopsy, or tissue biopsy to test cells and confirm their diagnosis. Don’t wait until you experience symptoms; get screened regularly for early detection.

At what age should you start getting oral cancer screenings?

The American Dental Association recommends that adults get periodic oral cancer screenings and dental exams around age 20. Screenings are a key part of routine dental visits. But high-risk individuals should start even sooner.

If you use tobacco or drink heavily, begin screenings at age 18. The longer you’ve had these habits, the higher your risk at a younger age. If you’ve been diagnosed with HPV-related head and neck cancer before, your dentist will monitor you closely with frequent oral cancer screenings due to a high recurrence risk.

No matter your age, tell the dentist near me about any symptoms or suspicious spots in your mouth. Most insurance plans cover oral cancer screenings and dental visits. Don’t wait – a quick screening could save your life.

Recognizing Oral Cancer Indicators

Oral cancer can develop for a long time before any noticeable symptoms appear. That’s why regular oral cancer screenings in San Diego, CA, are so important – they can detect cancer and precancerous changes before you notice a problem. But some key signs and symptoms to watch for include:

  • Sores, lesions, bumps, or thick/velvety red or white patches anywhere in your mouth that don’t heal within 2 weeks
  • Be alert for any unusual swelling or lumps in the mouth, neck, or lymph areas
  • Numbness, pain, or tenderness in any area of the mouth, face, or neck that lingers
  • Development of a noticeable lump or bulge anywhere inside the mouth
  • White, red, or speckled patches on the gums, tongue, tonsils, mouth lining, lips, or throat
  • Loose teeth, pain, or slow healing after dental work
  • Challenges with chewing, swallowing, or tongue and jaw movements can be red flags
  • Changes in speech, like a sudden lisp
  • Mouth sores or a feeling that something is caught in the throat
  • Unexplained weight loss

See your dentist or doctor immediately if you notice persistent mouth changes, pain, numbness, or trouble swallowing. Catching oral cancer early greatly improves prognosis. Don’t wait!

Scheduling Oral Cancer Screenings

Screening intervals should align with individual risk assessments, varying from person to person. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Low risk – Get screened every year at your dental exam if you don’t smoke or drink heavily.
  • Moderate risk – Get screened once or twice a year if you’re age 50+ or have HPV.
  • High risk – Get screened every 4-6 months if you use tobacco or alcohol heavily or have a prior history of oral cancer.

No matter your risk level, speak with your dentist about how often you should receive oral cancer screenings during routine visits. Based on your health history, they will recommend the ideal frequency for early detection. Remember to also check for any mouth changes yourself between visits. Professional exams and self-checks offer the best protection against oral cancer through early detection and prevention.

At the Center for Oral Health in San Diego, CA, we offer comprehensive oral cancer screenings and work to reduce your risk. With convenient locations throughout San Diego, we provide accessible dental care for the whole family. Contact us today to schedule your appointment!