Oral cancer screening - Symptoms, Procedure, & Limitations

Signs of precancerous conditions in your mouth needs a thorough examination performed by a dentist or doctors. The check-up is done during your regular or routine dental visit. If the dentist feels any signs, he or she may send you for additional tests to identify the irregularities in the cells of your mouth. The screening is mainly to detect oral cancer at an early stage and prevent oral cancer. It’s recommended that cancer screening should take place before any symptoms begin to show in the mouth. 

Why is oral cancer screening done?

Oral cancer detection at an early stage helps. It is easy to treat, and cure is faster when detected earlier. High-risk people will benefit from oral cancer screening. Sores in the mouth, discoloration, induration, prominent tissue, irritation, hoarseness, which does not resolve within two weeks on its own or by treating with home remedies, should be considered suspects. Further examination or referral becomes a must. A routine dental visit for regular checkups will bring to notice any minor or major changes inside and around the mouth area. When changes occur, they need to bring to the attention of a qualified dental professional for an oral cancer screening. The dental professional needs appropriate screening procedures to identify oral cancer.

Common Symptoms of oral cancer:

  1. Difficulty chewing & swallowing
  2. Mouth sores
  3. Mouth infections
  4. Tooth decay
  5. Pain while tasting food or speaking
  6. Burning sensation in the mouth area or throat
  7. Dry mouth

Factors that can increase oral cancer:

  • Use of tobacco including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, and snuff among others
  • Alcohol abuse
  • A previous oral cancer diagnosis
  • The risk of lip cancer due to significant sun exposure

What can you expect when you come for oral cancer screening?

During screening examination, the dentist uses a glove and looks carefully inside of the mouth and checks for red or white patches or mouth sores. The dentist also feels the tissues in the mouth and around to check for lumps, swelling, and other irregularities.

Those who wear partial and complete dentures; the dentist will appeal that they are detached so that the dentist can see tissue underneath and assess if further examination or tests are required.

If the dentist suspects high risk, then some dentists use special tests in addition to the oral exam to screen for oral cancer systematic visual examination.

Special oral cancer screening tests involve:

Before a systematic visual examination, rinsing the mouth with a special blue dye to determine the abnormal cells in the mouth may take up the color and seem to look blue when a dentist shines a light in the mouth.  The view shows that abnormal tissue appears white and makes healthy tissue appear dark.

Steps for oral cancer screenings:

  • Systematic visual exam

A methodical visual examination of the face, lips, inside nose, neck, and oral cavity are a vital part of an oral cancer screening. Dentist recommends that dental appliances are removed and the area exposed before the screening. The dentist looks for swellings, bumps, patches of colors, and other abnormalities.  A light is used to look inside the mouth and the nose and a mirror to see it clearly, also a tongue depressor is used to hold the tongue down to get a perfect look at the back of the mouth. These tools are used to evaluate the inner cheeks, the roof of the mouth, the gums, and the nearby areas, the throat and underneath the tongue.

  • Physical Exam

After the visual screening or examination, the dentist also touches for any nodules or masses, near the cheeks, head, under the chin, around the jaws, and in the oral cavity. Sometimes painless swelling can be a sign of a problem, and physical examination and proper test can detect and help rescue in time.

After Oral Cancer Screening:

Oral Cancer screening is a precautionary and not a medical diagnostic or a medical examination.  If he or she is an addict of alcoholic drinks and uses tobacco or things that would increase the risk of oral cancer; the dentist will advise and recommend screenings at regular intervals to monitor.

The oral cancer screening is an opportunity to talk to a dentist about the concerns or fear and ask their expert advice about reducing risk.

Limitations of Oral cancer Screening:

The screening cannot save lives, and the dentist or periodontist cannot treat oral cancer, but only help notice it. Furthermore, it is always possible that a very tiny bit of abnormal tissue or precise types of cancerous tissue could go undetected in a screening. Moreover, mere examination and feeling of mouth sores and lumps cannot prove if they are harmful or not.

Many people have a mouth sore, which is noncancerous. If the dentist suspects cancer during the regular dental visit, he or she can recommend further tests to determine the cause. Generally, an oral screening or examination cannot determine which mouth sores are cancerous. One has to test the abnormal cells to decide whether or not one has oral cancer. This procedure is called a biopsy.

A biopsy is a technique carried out in case of any suspected mouth cancer.  A small sample of tissues that are affected or cells are removed to check for any cancerous cell presence. The procedure is called a biopsy. If the biopsy confirms mouth cancer, then further test like an x-ray, ultrasound scan, CT scan is used to check the stage of cancer. After the completion of required tests, it will be possible to determine the stage or cancer and then followed by the treatment.  

Methods or techniques used for Oral Cancer testing:

  • An incision or punch biopsy is carried out under local anesthetic. In this case, the area affected tissues are accessible easily like the tongue or inside of the mouth.  The medical surgeon or dentist cut a small section of the tissues that are affected and use tweezers to remove. The cut wound is stitched, which is dissolvable. The area will be sore but not painful. Sometimes stitches are not required for smaller tissues.
  • Fine Needle Aspiration Cytology (FNAC) is used for swelling in the neck.  Growth in the neck is thought to be secondary from the mouth cancer. Like a blood test, a tiny needle is used to draw a small sample of cells and the fluid from the lump and checked for cancer.  The procedure is quick like the blood test.
  • Nasendoscopy is a thin, long flexible tube with a camera and a light at one end of the tube. They are inserted through the nose into the throat and used if the suspected tissues are inside the nose, pharynx (throat) or larynx (voice box).  To decrease discomfort, a local anesthetic is sprayed into the nose and throat. Take about thirty seconds. 
  • Panendoscopy –- The procedure is carried out under general anesthetic.  The panendoscopy can be used to remove small tumors.
  • VELscope Vx – The VELscope VX helps the dentist visualize oral mucosal abnormalities, including oral cancer. It is used during routine examinations to detect pre-cancerous lesions trace in the mouth. VELscope Vx is an enhanced Oral Assessment System.  The VELscope VX  can recognize immediately and advise the best way forward. Early discovery of oral cancer will help the patient recover faster and better.

If mouth cancer or precancerous lesions are detected, the dentist usually recommends:

  • A follow-up visit to see if the abnormal area is still present and note whether it has grown or changed over time. It may be for a few weeks depending on the severity.
  • A biopsy procedure is done to take out cell samples for laboratory testing to determine whether cancer cells are present. Your dentist may perform the biopsy in the office or recommend to a doctor who specializes in oral cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Oral cancer occurs when abnormal cells inside mouth salivary glands, tonsils, and many other areas.  Most common on the lower lip.  A visual and physical examination or screening of the oral cavity and connected tissues can reassure detection, and early treatment can help. Patients may choose to visit the dentist and during their regular visit, request the dentist for an oral screening as a precautionary measure.

At Implants Pro Center™, San Francisco, we take extreme care for your overall well being and leave no stone unturned in order to provide the best healthcare possible. We also accept all major dental and medical PPO insurances, thereby reducing your worry about the cost of dental implant treatment or any oral surgeries. We also have a tremendously experienced and caring staff who will provide life-long care, maintenance, and support. Implants Pro Center™ is also equipped with all the modern technologies like VELscope Vx for OCS, CT-Scan, Intravenous Sedation, Platelet Rich Fibrin, etc. in order to provide nothing less than the best of services. You will be completely at ease for any of your oral screening procedures. Feel free to get in touch with us to schedule your free consultation.

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