Have you had an oral cancer screening lately? We know it sounds scary, but we highly recommend that all adults get regular oral cancer screenings in order to control a potentially much scarier thing. It’s a sad truth that the majority of people who are diagnosed with oral cancers do not survive beyond 5 years, simply because oral cancers so often go undiagnosed and untreated until their later stages.
Early detection is key to a higher chance of successful treatment of oral cancers. We recommend that adults over the age of 20 get screened for oral cancer once every 3 years, and adults over the age of 40 get screened annually.
Signs and Symptoms
Oral cancers include cancers of the mouth and the back of the throat, and can have a wide range of signs and symptoms. This is why it is very important to get screened for oral cancer regularly by a dental professional who knows what to look for.
However, there are things you can look out for on your own, too. Here are the common signs and symptoms to look out for:
A mouth or lip sore that doesn't heal.
A white, reddish, or black discoloration in any of the soft tissues of the mouth (the gums, lips, cheeks, tongue, soft palate, etc.).
A growth, lump, or hard spot that develops inside the mouth, on the jaw, or on the neck.
Ear pain that does not affect hearing.
Difficult or painful swallowing or chewing that persists for more than 2 weeks.
Painful cough that persists for more than 2 weeks.
Sore throat or a feeling that something is caught in the throat.
Hoarseness or other vocal changes.
Unexplained weight loss.
All of the above symptoms have in common that they are persistent and not resolving; they do not heal or “go away” on their own.
When to See Your Dentist
Do an oral inspection of your own mouth periodically, and visit your dentist if you notice any of the above signs or symptoms that are persistent and last more than 2 weeks.
Twice-yearly dentist visits are also an important oral cancer screening tool. As part of your routine dental checkup, you can ask your dentist to inspect your entire mouth for any abnormalities that may indicate mouth cancer or any precancerous changes. Talk to your dentist about any signs or symptoms you notice or are concerned about.
Lower your risk of oral cancers by: avoiding tobacco use of all kinds, avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, protecting your skin and lips from frequent sun exposure, getting the HPV vaccine (which protects against oropharyngeal cancers), practicing good oral hygiene, and visiting the dentist regularly.