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At every preventive maintenance appointment you will be given a full head and neck examination including a clinical oral cancer screening. Your dentist and hygienist are looking for any signs of infection, viruses, traumatic lesions and cancerous or potentially pre-cancerous lesions. Cancerous lesions vary in appearance and if diagnosed early lead to a better prognosis.
Oral cancer can appear differently for every person. Common signs or symptoms include:
Most oral cancers are on the sides and underside of the tongue and the floor of the mouth. Because many of these areas are hard to see and asymptomatic, many oral cancers are not discovered until they have metastasized to other areas of the head or neck. These areas are commonly in your throat and lymph nodes. Your dental hygiene appointment will include an examination by your dentist to check for early discovery of abnormal tissues.
According to the America Cancer Society (www.cancer.org) early detection is key. The average 5-year survival rate for oral cancers are 75% if diagnosed early (in Stage I) and drops to 40% if diagnosed late (in Stage IV), the national average (discovery at all stages) is 50%. Every adult is a candidate for oral cancer although some are at higher risk than others.
Risk increases depending on lifestyle, genetics and habits. Exposure to tobacco products, through personal use or second-hand exposure, alcohol exposure, sexually transmitted infections, age, gender, sun-exposure, nutrition and immune system disorders or deficiencies are factors that may increase your risk.
In the past, the number one cause of oral cancer was tobacco use, that has now been surpassed by sexually transmitted infections, in particular Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). There are over 100 different types of HPV, 40% of which prefer the tissues in your mouth. Oral cancer can takes year to develop from HPV exposure and may not be prevented by the HPV vaccine. Research is constantly being done to minimize the occurrence of cancers from exposure to HPV. Your dentist or hygienist can give you the most up to date information regarding this research and what discoveries are being made in the research.
Your risk for oral cancer can be greatly reduced by avoiding these risk factors. Changes that can be made in your daily life include minimizing alcohol and tobacco exposure, avoiding sexually transmitted infections, using lip balm with and SPF of 15 or greater and practicing healthy eating habits.
To provide you with the best care possible, Aesthetic and Implant Dentistry of Atlanta utilizes an adjunctive oral cancer screening device, Velscope, to get the earliest detection possible. The Velscope can indicate that you have an area that is indicative of cancerous or pre-cancerous cells or that you currently have no areas of concern. All adults are advised to have the Velscope examination yearly and more often for higher-risk individuals. You and your dentist will evaluate your individual risk through a short series of questions regarding the risk factors discussed earlier.
While some adjunctive oral cancer screening devices require you to swish with a foul-tasting rinse, the Velscope examination utilizes a filtered UV light to show cancerous or pre-cancerous tissues that may or may not be visible clinically. During the exam, which takes only a couple of minutes, you will be asked to wear protective eyeglasses and the lights may be dimmed. The dentist or hygienist will then look at all of the tissues in your mouth including your lips and throat. Your tongue with be moved and you will be asked to perform simple tasks, such as stick out you tongue and say “ahh”. These manipulations to your mouth and tongue will allow the dentist to see all areas of the mouth and throat which may not be visible otherwise.