Because the mouth is a region where changes can be easily seen, oral cancer can be detected in its early stages. Performing a self-examination regularly will help in the early recognition and detection of oral cancer, and increase the chance for cure.
Research has identified a number of factors that may contribute to the development of oral cancer.The most common are the use of tobacco and alcohol. Others include poor oral hygiene, irritation caused by ill-fitting dentures and rough surfaces on teeth, poor nutrition, some chronic infections and combinations of these factors.
Studies have shown that the death rate from oral cancer is about four times higher for cigarette smokers than for nonsmokers. It is also widely believed in the medical field that the heat generated by smoking pipes and cigars irritates the mouth and can lead to lip cancer.
Those at an especially high risk of developing oral cancer are over 40 years of age, heavy drinkers and smokers, or users of smokeless tobacco, including snuff.
Oral and maxillofacial surgeons recommend that everyone perform an oral cancer self-exam each month. If you are at high risk for oral cancer — smoker, consumer of alcohol, user of smokeless tobacco, or snuff — you should see your general dentist or oral and maxillofacial surgeon for an annual exam.
An oral examination is performed using a bright light and a mirror:
When performing an oral cancer self-examination, look for the following:
See your oral and maxillofacial surgeon if you have any of these signs. If the oral and maxillofacial surgeon agrees that something looks suspicious, a biopsy may be recommended. A biopsy involves the removal of a piece of the suspicious tissue, which is then sent to a pathology laboratory for a microscopic examination that will accurately diagnose the problem. The biopsy report not only helps establish a diagnosis, but also enables the doctor to develop a specific plan of treatment.