Oral Cancer Screening: Early Detection is Key

Screening means testing people for early signs of cancer or precancerous conditions in your mouth before they have any symptoms. This can help find cancer at an early stage. When abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat, when there is a greater chance for a cure. By the time symptoms appear, cancer may have begun to spread.


The examination will include looking for lesions, including areas of leukoplakia (abnormal white patch of cells) and erythoplakia (abnormal red patches of cells). More than half of oral cancers have spread to the lymph nodes by the time they are found.


Scientists are trying to better understand which people are more likely to get certain types of cancer. They also study the things we do and the things around us to see if they cause cancer. This information helps doctors recommend who should be screened for cancer, which screening tests should be used, and how often the tests should be done.


LILONGWE, Malawi - Master Sgt. Teresa J. Morgan, dental non-commissioned officer in charge of MEDREACH 11 of the 908th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, from Ariton, Ala. performs a dental procedure on a Malawian patient at the Partners in Hope Medical Centre.


It is important to remember that your doctor does not necessarily think you have cancer if he or she suggests a screening test. Screening tests are given when you have no cancer symptoms. Some dentists may use additional tests to aid in identifying areas of abnormal cells in your mouth. If a screening test result is abnormal, you may need to have more tests done to find out if you have cancer. These are called diagnostic tests. .If the dentist suspects a cancer they can refer you to the hospital to see a specialist.


Not only do regular dental exams help keep your teeth and gums healthy, they can help detect oral cancer. People should get a dental exam from a general dentist every six months.The next time you visit your dentist, do not forget ask about an oral cancer screening. Your dentist will feel for lumps or irregular tissue changes in your neck, head, cheeks, and oral cavity and thoroughly examine the soft tissues in your mouth, specifically looking for any sores or discolored tissues. Although you may have already been receiving this screening from your dentist, it’s a good idea to confirm that this screening is and will remain a part of your regular exam.


Each year in the United States, more than 30,000 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed, and more than 8,000 people die of the disease, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. The five-year survival rate for oral cancer is about 50 percent. If it is not diagnosed and treated in its early stages, oral cancer can be deadly. Treatment for advanced stage oral cancer may lead to chronic pain, loss of function, permanent facial and oral disfigurement following surgery. The earlier the cancer is detected and treated, the better the outcome.


Warning Signs

Possible warning signs of oral cancer include:

  • A color change in oral tissues
  • Pain and tenderness anywhere in the oral cavity
  • Bleeding sores or sores that do not heal
  • Lumps or thick, hard spots
  • Soreness or feeling that something is caught in the throat, or hoarseness
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Ear pain
  • Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue
  • Numbness of the tongue
  • Changes in the way teeth fit together


Medical organizations disagree on whether healthy people without risk factors for mouth cancer need oral cancer screening. No single oral exam or oral cancer screening test is proved to reduce the risk of dying of oral cancer. Still, you and your dentist may decide that an oral exam or a special test is right for you based on your risk factors.


What you Can Do to Detect and Resist Developing Oral Cancer

You can do a couple of things to detect oral cancer early. Have regular dental check-ups, at least yearly – even if you have false teeth. Check inside your mouth with a small mirror for any changes that could be due to mouth cancer. You need to report any changes that you find to your GP or dentist. This is especially important if you smoke and drink heavily.


man holding up a hand to offered pack of cigarettes. Quit smoking in 2016.

The best ways to resist oral cancer include not using tobacco of any kind (including cigarettes, cigars, and pipes), drinking alcohol moderately, and following a healthy diet with lots of fruit and vegetables.


Some Facts about Oral Cancer

  • Oral cancer begins as a small white or red sore anywhere in the mouth. These can occur on the lips, gum tissue, tongue, palate, or cheek lining
  • Oral cancer incidence increases with age, occurs most frequently  over the age of 40
  • Oral cancer is the 6th most common cancer among men and is becoming more common in women.
  • Tobacco users are more likely to develop oral cancer, especially if they also use alcohol.
  • On the other hand, about 25 percent of oral cancer patients have no known risk factors
  • Studies have shown that the death rate from oral cancer is about 4 times higher for cigarette smokers than for non-smokers.
About Mark C. Marchbanks, D.D.S.

Dr. Mark Marchbanks has practiced dentistry in Arlington Texas since 1983. He enjoys caring for patients young and old. You can find Dr. Marchbanks on
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If it's been more than 6 months since your last teeth cleaning, give us a call today to schedule your check-up.