Most dentists perform an examination of your mouth during a routine dental visit to screen for oral cancer. Some dentists may use additional tests to aid in identifying areas of abnormal cells in your mouth. The goal with oral cancer screening is to identify cancer early, when there is a greater chance for a cure.
Screening for oral cancer isn’t without controversy, though. No single oral exam or oral cancer screening test is proven to reduce the risk of dying of oral cancer. Still, you and your dentist may decide that an oral exam or a special test is right for you based on your risk factors.
Most dentists recommend an oral exam during your routine dental visit to screen for oral cancer. During an oral exam, your dentist looks over the inside of your mouth to check for red or white patches or mouth sores. Using gloved hands, your dentist also feels the tissues in your mouth to check for lumps or other abnormalities.
“Ameritas believes strongly in the importance of preventive care and oral wellness education,” said Roxann Brennfoerder, vice president – group customer relations and operations. Using new technology along with conventional visual exams, this simple screening makes it easier for dentists to detect oral cancer sooner, allowing patients to seek treatment sooner.
Early detection is one of the keys to successful treatment for patients with oral cancer. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society (oral cancer in the United States, 2008 estimates), when oral cancer is found in its earliest stages, the five-year survival rate exceeds 80 percent.
Many people have abnormal sores in their mouths, with the great majority being noncancerous. An oral exam can’t determine which sores are cancerous and which are not. If your dentist finds an unusual sore, you may go through further testing to determine its cause. The only way to definitively determine whether you have oral cancer is to remove some abnormal cells and test them for cancer in a procedure called a biopsy.
Not all medical organizations agree about the benefits of an oral exam for oral cancer screening. For instance, the American Dental Association recommends all adults undergo periodic oral exams when they visit the dentist. The American Cancer Society recommends discussing oral cancer screening when you visit your dentist. But the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) concludes that there is insufficient evidence either for or against routine oral cancer screening in adults. The USPSTF also says that techniques other than the standard oral exam are being evaluated but are still experimental.
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