Oral cancer is a serious condition that, when detected early, can significantly improve timely intervention, treatment outcomes and save lives. Understanding oral cancer empowers you to make informed decisions that contribute to your overall well-being. Through regular oral cancer screenings, coupled with a commitment to preventive care, you can take proactive steps towards reducing the risk for oral cancer development.
What is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer refers to the abnormal growth of cells in the oral cavity, including the lips, tongue, cheeks, gums, and throat. Early stages of oral cancer might go unnoticed, as they often present with subtle or asymptomatic symptoms. This is why routine oral cancer screenings by a qualified dentist or oral surgeon are essential. When detected at an early stage, oral cancer is highly treatable, with a significantly improved prognosis.
Who Should Undergo Oral Cancer Screenings?
While certain risk factors like tobacco and alcohol use can increase the likelihood of developing oral cancer, anyone can be at risk. This is why oral cancer screenings are recommended for everyone, regardless of age or risk profile. Regular screenings are particularly important for individuals who have a family history of oral cancer or have been exposed to risk factors.
The Oral Cancer Screening Process
During an oral cancer screening, your dentist or oral surgeon will conduct a thorough examination of your mouth using both visual and tactile approaches, looking for any abnormalities. It is a non-invasive and painless procedure typically incorporated into routine dental check-ups.
Your dental professional will begin by visually inspecting your lips, gums, cheeks, tongue, and the roof and floor of your mouth. This visual assessment allows them to identify any visible abnormalities, such as red or white patches, ulcers, or lumps that might warrant further investigation.
In addition to the visual examination, your dentist or oral surgeon will use their trained sense of touch to palpate your oral tissues. This tactile examination enables them to detect subtle changes in texture, consistency, or any unusual masses that might not be apparent to the naked eye.
Another aspect of the screening process involves examining your neck and throat for any enlarged lymph nodes or irregularities, since oral cancer can sometimes spread to nearby lymph nodes.
Your dental professional may also employ advanced technologies and tools to enhance the accuracy of their assessment. Fluorescence imaging, for instance, involves using a special light to highlight any abnormal tissues that may not be visible under normal lighting conditions. This aids in identifying potential areas of concern that might require further evaluation or biopsy.
Early or Ongoing Symptoms of Oral Cancer
While oral cancer can often develop without causing noticeable discomfort in its early stages, being vigilant about any changes in your oral cavity can lead to early detection and improved treatment outcomes. Early or ongoing symptoms can include:
- Persistent mouth sores or ulcers that do not heal within a reasonable timeframe
- Red or white patches on the lips, tongue, gums or mouth lining
- Unexplained or persistent pain or discomfort in the mouth or throat
- Changes in texture and color of oral tissues, including thickening or roughness, bleeding, tenderness or numbness in the mouth or on the lips
- A lump or mass in the mouth or neck
- Swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck
- Changes in voice or difficulty swallowing (less common)
Related: Oral Cancer
Early Detection Can Save Lives
Early detection is a cornerstone in the battle against oral cancer, offering an advantage in treatment outcomes and preservation of overall health.
As oral cancer often progresses silently in its initial stages, it underscores the importance of routine oral cancer screenings by a qualified dental professional. Early detection allows for timely intervention, which can make a substantial different in the treatment effectiveness. When oral cancer is identified at an early stage, treatment options can be less invasive, resulting in reduced impact on oral function, appearance and overall well-being. And by catching it early, patients are better positioned to maintain their ability to speak, eat and swallow comfortably.
Early detection also empowers patients to actively engage in their treatment decision, fostering a sense of control and understanding. They can collaborate with their healthcare team to make informed choices and play an active role in their journey to recovery.
Left untreated, oral cancer can progress, leading to detrimental effects on the body and ultimately contributing to life-threatening consequences that can include:
- Local spread and invasion of nearby tissues
- Infiltration of major blood vessels and nerves
- Metastasis, or spread to other parts of the body typically through the lymphatic or blood system
- Hindrance of a person’s ability to eat and drink, leading to malnutrition and a weakened immune system
- Treatment challenges
- Changes to quality of life through pain, disfigurement, speech difficulties and social isolation
Early Oral Cancer Screenings through Advanced Family Dentistry
Advanced Family Dentistry, led by Dr. Sonny Kim, is dedicated to your oral health, and offers comprehensive services that include early detection and thorough oral cancer screenings.
Beyond the screening process, Dr. Kim and his team prioritize patient education and open communication. They take the time to discuss your oral health history, lifestyle factors, and any specific concerns you may have. This comprehensive approach ensures your individual risk profile is taken into account, guiding the frequency and intensity of your oral cancer screenings. If any potential issues should arise during your screening, you will be provided clear guidance as to next steps.
If you suspect symptoms of oral cancer, or wish to schedule a dental checkup, contact Advanced Family Dentistry at 703-390-9191 to schedule your appointment. We’re conveniently located in Reston, Virginia.
Dr. Sonny Kim is a Diplomat of the International Congress of Oral Implantologists (ICOI), the highest education level for general dentists in this field.
Advanced Family Dentistry
Dr. Sonny Kim, DMD
11876 Sunrise Valley Dr., Suite 101
Reston, VA 20191