Dentistry & Oral Cancer

By Dr. Elizabeth Fleming
January 15, 2014
Category: Uncategorized
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With 35,000+ new cases of oral cancer diagnosed in the US every year, mostly in stage 3 or 4, dentists will be the key to earlier evaluation and treatment of oral lesions. Earlier diagnosis could increase the current survival rate of 50% fatality within the first 5 years of diagnosis. Having a celebrity spokesperson like Michael Douglas, who was diagnosed with stage 4 throat cancer, will certainly make people more aware of the problem of oral cancer.

Though there are common risk factors such as tobacco and alcohol usage, prolonged exposure to the sun, and a diet low in fruits and vegetables, the current findings are also linking Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which is a sexually transmitted virus, in up to 50% of oral cancers.  These behaviors can increase your risk of oral cancer, but even if you are not in a high risk category, you should consider getting an oral cancer exam by your dentist regularly.  We would prefer to get a diagnosis at an earlier, more treatable stage, than the more commonly diagnosed stages of 3 or 4. We recommend an oral cancer screening exam once/year, for all patients over age 18.

The oral cancer examination is a simple one.  We look for changes or abnormalities in the tissues of the mouth, face and neck.  These can be red or white discolorations, sores that do not heal, lumps or bumps, or changes in feeling, such as numbness, pain or tenderness. Frequent oral cancer sites are the tongue, floor of mouth, soft palate, tissues of the lips, gums and back of tongue.

There are adjunctive devices that may also be used in addition to the visual exam, such as Vizilite, Identafi, or Velscope.  These use tissue reflectance, autofluorescence or a combination of the two.  If we do find a suspicious looking lesion, we will reevaluate the area in 10-14 days,  a normal time for trauma and innocuous areas to heal.  If it is still present at the reevaluation appointment, we will send you for a biopsy of the lesion.

Dentistry has traditionally been concerned with the treatment of disease.  It is now evolving into a profession that is also concerned with a patient’s wellness.  There are 150,000 dentists in the US who can screen patients to help with the early detection and improved patient outcomes in the area of oral cancer.  Get your oral cancer exam at your dental office today!

Elizabeth J Fleming and the staff at Desert Ridge Smiles 480-860-4300