Oral cancer kills more people nationwide than either cervical or skin (melanoma) cancer, and only half of patients diagnosed will survive more than five years. One American dies every hour from oral cancer. The most common risk factors are tobacco use, frequent high quantity alcohol consumption, constant sunlight exposure, habitual cheek or lip biting, or poorly fitting dentures. Although most oral cancers are found in people who use tobacco and/or drink alcohol excessively, 25 percent of oral cancers occur in people who have no risk factors at all. At our office, we perform oral cancer screening in Virginia Beach as part of the regularly scheduled checkup.
How Is Oral Cancer Screening Performed?
Statistics show that in about 10 percent of patients, dentists notice a problem area before the patient notices. During a regular dental check up, your dentist in Virginia Beach will examine your entire mouth, searching for a flat, painless, white or red spot or small sore. Other signs of oral cancer can include:
- A sore that bleeds easily or does not heal.
- A color change of the oral tissues.
- A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust, or small, eroded area.
- Pain, tenderness, or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips.
How is a Suspicious Area Tested?
Two tests can determine if a trouble spot is cancerous. A brush biopsy is a painless test performed as a screening on a potentially problematic area. This test is quite similar to the Pap smear that’s performed to screen for cervical cancer in women. A stiff brush is rubbed across the lesion, and the cells collected are sent to the laboratory to be examined under a microscope for potentially cancerous changes. This test can detect potentially dangerous cells in the early stages of the disease.
A scalpel biopsy, which requires local anesthesia, is performed if the brush biopsy is positive, or if there’s a high suspicion that the area is cancerous. This requires local anesthesia, and then removal of all or part of the lesion with a sharp instrument. The tissue is sent to the laboratory, where it’s subjected to testing and viewed under the microscope to determine whether it’s cancerous and, if so, whether the cancer is contained in the local area or has begun to spread.
For more information about oral cancer, support groups, or treatments, you can visit www.oralcancerfoundation.org.
Dentist in Virginia Beach
Your regularly scheduled appointments allow your dentist to perform oral cancer screenings in Virginia Beach, as well as a checkup for problems with your teeth and gums (such as cavities that may need fillings), and allowing your hygienist to do a thorough professional cleaning. You need to see a dentist every six months to maintain your oral health.
If it’s been more than six months since your last appointment, you need to find a dentist in Virginia Beach to perform your oral cancer screening and the other parts of your exam. Call Virginia Beach Family and Cosmetic Dentistry, the office of Dr. Mary Lewis, to schedule your appointment.