Oral cancer, like any other forms of cancer, is something to take seriously. It can happen to anyone, though it is most prevalent among the elderly and those who smoke and/or drink excessively.
Oral cancer, as its name suggests, appears in your mouth or throat, and there are different kinds of tumors that can be present. The tumors may be dormant and not growing, or they can grow rapidly and spread to other parts of the body. Same as with other cancers, careful biopsies are done on the suspected tumor tissue to determine the stage/grade, or severity of the cancer.
Symptoms of Oral Cancer
Though you may not think you’re at risk for oral cancer because you’re young, healthy and don’t smoke, it is important to get screened by your dentist. Oral cancer screening is usually a component of the standard teeth cleaning appointment, so make sure you never let these appointments slide.
The most common signs or symptoms of oral cancer are subtle and don’t involve pain or discomfort. Because of this, many people fail to recognize or ignore the possible warning signs. The most noticeable, yet subtle, telltale signs include:
- Constant hoarseness
- Trouble swallowing
- Persistent ear aches
- The presence of small lumps on the side of the neck
- Change in voice
- Moving of teeth or jaw
The Process of Diagnosing Oral Cancer
When you visit us for an oral cancer screening, we will likely ask a series of questions and then examine your face, neck and the inside of your mouth. We’ll ask questions that address the aforementioned, hard-to-notice symptoms, such as ‘do you notice objects getting stuck in your throat when trying to swallow?’ and ‘has anyone noticed a change in your voice?’ We will also look for slight inconsistencies such as asymmetry in facial features or a drooping corner of your mouth when you speak.
At the screening, we will touch the sides of your neck to check for lumps. The lumps associated with oral cancer are hard and painless to the touch. They also are not sore when you swallow, like swollen lymph nodes are when you’re sick.
We may ask you to stick out your tongue. If your tongue goes off to one side or another, we may need to do further examining as nerves in your tongue or a mass on the bottom of your mouth may be the cause of the deviation.
We’ll also push down on the bottom of your mouth under your tongue to check for lumps. The inside of your cheeks, gums, lips and the roof of your mouth will also be checked for any open sores, hard and/or cracked lesions, or white spots.
If cancerous cells are suspected, further, more intensive testing may be done. X-rays, CAT Scans and Ultrasounds may be used to better see the mass. If any abnormalities occur during your screening, we may ask you to come back in two weeks for additional testing.
A biopsy may be taken of the suspected tumorous cells to see if indeed they are cancerous and if so, the aggressive or dormant nature of the cancer. A biopsy is the only way to detect oral cancer.
Telling us your symptoms at your next tooth cleaning appointment is the important first step in catching potential oral cancer. Other steps you can take to lower your risk of oral cancer include having a good oral hygiene routine and eating a nutrition-packed diet rich in vitamin C.
Oral cancer is not something to take lightly, and early detection is important. If you experience one or more of the subtle symptoms listed above, or if something doesn’t feel right, be sure to mention them to us at your next teeth cleaning appointment. Our office has state-of-the-art equipment as well as precise x-ray machines to accurately assess and pinpoint any possible oral cancer tumors.