A malignancy in the oral cavity is called oral cancer. As many as 35,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer every year and the mortality rate among oral cancer patients is 25%. Many of these deaths are a result of the cancer not being detected early enough for proper treatment. Oral cancer screening helps detect the malignancy, which allows the dentist to effectively treat the disease.
The survival rate among patients who have early cancer detection is 95%, but it is only 5% for those who were treated at a later stage. As the disease progresses, the tumour spreads to the lymph nodes and then to other parts the body. Once the disease has spread throughout the body, the possibility of survival becomes lower.
During the screening the dentist examines the gums, teeth and cavities for Leukoplakia, which looks like a thick white patch on the mucous membranes in the mouth. The thick white patch is a pre-malignant lesion, which could become an invasive squamous cell carcinoma that causes nearly 95% of oral cavity cancer. Oral cancer screening must be a part of regular oral care. The following symptoms should be looked for during self-examination:
- Open wounds that are not healing quickly.
- Slightly raised or thick white patches on the mucous membranes.
- Irritated and bleeding gums.
- Tooth loss
The sighting of any of these symptoms must be immediately reported to the dentist or doctor for professional examination. People who are at a high risk of oral cancer are tobacco users, smokers and heavy drinkers. Oral cancer screening can be offered by the dentist as a preventive measure. Individuals that come under high risk for oral cancer must undergo regular oral cancer screening. The dentist will check if there is any history of neck or head cancer or other symptoms, like difficulty with swallowing, enlarged lymph nodes, chronic earaches and neck masses. It is good to discuss with a dentist about your risk of developing oral cancer and steps that could be taken to prevent it.