Oral Cancer Screening

An oral cancer screening is provided at each comprehensive dental exam. This quick and painless screening includes both a visual and hands-on evaluation of the head, neck, chewing muscles, mouth and back of throat tissues and gland analysis. Depending on your health and other risk factors, your dentist may recommend an advanced oral cancer screening. This can detect signs of oral cancer that are not visible to the eye alone. As with all cancers, early detection is key. If you have never had an oral cancer screening before, there is no better time than now.

Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer

Oral cancer can occur on the lips, gums, tongue, inner cheeks, and the roof or floor of the mouth (under the tongue). Signs and symptom may include:

  • A lip or mouth sore that does not heal within 14 days
  • A white, red, or black patch on the inside of your mouth
  • Any abnormality that bleeds when touched
  • A growth, hard lump, or thickening inside your mouth (usually on the side of the tongue)
  • Mouth pain
  • Ear pain
  • Difficulty or painful swallowing
  • A painless, firm, fixated lump felt on the outside of the neck that has been there for at least two weeks

See your doctor immediately if any of the above symptoms persist and are bothersome for over two weeks. Your doctor will likely investigate other more common causes for your signs and symptoms first, such as an infection, as well as conduct an oral cancer screening.

What Can You Do to Prevent Oral Cancer?

There is no “at-home test” for oral cancer, so your best bet to lower your risk of being diagnosed is to make educated and healthy decisions. Though, no method is 100% guaranteed to keep you cancer-free, here are some ways to lower your risk:

  • Stop smoking or don’t start: Using tobacco, whether smoked or chewed, exposes the cells in your mouth to dangerous cancer-causing chemicals. This includes cigarettes, vaping/e-cigarettes, pipes, hookah, snuff, chewing tobacco, and cigars among other things.
  • Abstain or limit alcohol consumption: Excessive alcohol use can irritate the cells in your mouth making them vulnerable to oral cancer. If you choose to drink alcohol, drink in moderation. For a healthy adult drinking in moderation means two drinks a day for men under 65 years and one drink a day for men over 65 years and women of all ages.
  • Safe sex practices: To lower your risk of contracting oral HPV and the oral cancers associated with it, limit your chances of contracting all HPV by practicing safe sex. Always use condoms, dental dams, and limit the number of sexual partners. In addition, if you are sexually active receiving regular sexually transmitted infection (STI) and annual Pap testing is recommended.
  • Get your HPV vaccine: The HPV vaccine can lower your chances of contracting HPV and developing HPV related oral cancers – specifically oropharyngeal cancer. Though studies have not been done to specifically prove that the HPV vaccine prevents oropharyngeal cancers because it prevents other infections associated with HPV it may be beneficial in preventing oral HPV-related cancers. The CDC recommends that 11-12 year old boys and girls should be vaccinated to protect against cancers caused by HPV. For more information about the HPV vaccine and how it relates to your overall health, contact your primary care doctor.
  • Protect your lips: Excessive sun exposure to your lips may be a factor in developing oral cancer. Stay out of the sun and in shaded areas whenever possible, wear broad-brimmed hats that shade your entire face, including your mouth, and apply lip balm or other lip products that contain sunscreen with an SPF of 25 for extra protection against the sun’s harmful UV rays.

FAQs: Oral Cancer Screening

When is Oral Cancer Screening Recommended?

Screenings for mouth cancers are recommended during regular dental office visits. As part of your routine dental exams, our dentists inspect your entire mouth for abnormal areas that may indicate precancerous changes, oral cancer, or other oral diseases.

Can a Blood Test Detect Oral Cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society, blood tests are unable to diagnose mouth cancers. However, blood tests can help identify the status of your overall health as well as diagnose other health conditions.

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Gary Allen, DMD, Advantage Dental Group, P.C.; Gary W. Allen, DMD, P.C. | James Thommes, DDS, DentaQuest Oral Health Center Of Massachusetts, P.C.; Advantage Dental Oral Health And Vision Center Of Alabama, P.C.; Advantage Dental Oral Health Center Of Texas, P.C. | Cory White, DMD, Advantage Dental Oral Health and Vision Center of Alabama, P.C. | John Clasen, OD, Advantage Dental Oral Health and Vision Center of Alabama, P.C. | Neil Williams, DMD, Advantage Dental Oral Health Center of Florida, PA