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Oral Cancer Screening


Dentist examining patientAt Northstar Dental, we understand that regular screening for oral cancer is a vital part of maintaining not only your oral health but your overall well-being. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, around 53,000 people in the US alone are diagnosed with oral cancer in a single year, and over 9,000 of those cases result in death. Early detection can make all the difference.

What Is Oral Cancer?


Oral cancer falls under the category of head and neck cancers, which also includes cancers of the sinuses, nose, and throat. Oral cancer makes up about 85% of diagnosed cases within this category, and 90% of those cases are squamous cell carcinomas. These can affect the tongue, cheeks, tonsillar area, floor of the mouth, and the area between the lips or cheeks and the gums where chewing tobacco is often held. Cancer of the hard palate is possible but uncommon, and cases of cancer affecting the lips have decreased over time.

Risk Factors


Oral cancer often affects those over the age of 50 but can affect individuals of any age. According to the American Cancer Society, men are twice as likely as women to develop oral cancer, with men over 50 facing the greatest risk. Other factors that may lead to oral cancer include excessive alcohol consumption, ultraviolet radiation, persistent viral infections such as human papillomavirus (HPV), and a family history of cancer. One of the most well-known risk factors is the use of tobacco. While both smoking and the use of smokeless tobacco are primary causes for the development of oral cancer, those who use smokeless tobacco such as “dip” or “snuff” are 50 times more likely than others to develop cancer of the mouth.

Detection


Because oral cancer in its early stages does not necessarily cause pain or other symptoms, it often goes unnoticed by patients. However, with regular screenings, we can detect even the smallest changes in the appearance or consistency of oral tissue. We also encourage regular self-examination to supplement normal check-ups. If an abnormal area is discovered, we can determine whether cancer is the cause by taking a biopsy of the suspicious tissue.

Even though it does not always show early symptoms, oral cancer may appear as a white, red, or spotty patch in the mouth, and may develop a lump as it progresses. Later symptoms can include numbness of the face or mouth, long term hoarseness, persistent sores or unexplained bleeding, ear pain, and difficulty chewing, swallowing, or speaking. If detected early, we can prevent oral cancer from reaching these stages; earlier diagnosis generally has a better prognosis and is easier to treat than late stage cancer.

Treatment


If biopsy results show signs of cancer, our priority is determining its extent. Using tools such as a small lighted camera, we can examine the rest of the mouth and throat to establish what stage the cancer has reached. This allows us to tailor treatment to your specific situation. Treatments can include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and immunotherapy, depending upon the cancer itself and your overall health.

With regular screenings, we can help you maintain your oral health and catch problems such as oral cancer before it becomes life-threatening. To learn more about our screening methods, how often you should be screened, or how to do self-examinations, call our office today.

Our staff will be happy to walk you through the process and set up an appointment with you. At Northstar Dental at (303) 481-3901. your oral health is our priority.
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