Early detection of oral cancer can improve a patient’s chances of successful treatment. That’s why many dentists recommend having regular oral cancer screenings that examine the entire mouth. Adults over the age of 20 should have a screening every three years while those over 40 should have annual screenings. People with risk factors - such as adults who use tobacco, are heavy alcohol drinkers, have human papillomavirus (HPV) and/or have a family history of cancer - should request an annual oral cancer screening.
What does an oral cancer screening entail?
An oral cancer screening begins with a clinical exam of a patient’s mouth and throat. The dentist will use a light, mirror and tongue depressor to look for any type of abnormality, such as bumps, patches of color, ulcerations and swelling. All areas of the mouth will be examined, including the roof of the mouth, tonsils, inner cheeks, gums and tongue. The dentist will also palpate the jaw, the neck, under the chin and the outside cheeks to feel for any unusual masses or firm nodules.
If any abnormalities are detected, the dentist may use a special dye and/or light to further evaluate this area for oral cancer. Some of the most common tests include:
- Using a laser light that reflects abnormal tissue differently than it does normal tissue
- Spreading toluidine blue dye over the suspected abnormal area, which will turn blue if irregular tissue is found
- Rinsing the mouth with a solution of acetic acid and then using a special light to examine the abnormal area
Dentists also recommend that adults conduct monthly self-exams for oral cancer and to report any changes, such as white patches, lumps or sores, to their dentist.
If you have received an abnormal oral cancer screening and would like your symptoms evaluated by an experienced oncologist, Moffitt Cancer Center is here to help. Our Head and Neck Cancer Program includes a multispecialty team of medical oncologists, pathologists, radiologists and other specialists who work collaboratively to ensure our patients receive the very best care and treatment.