Oral cancer is most commonly found on the tongue (top, sides and underneath), the palate and the floor of the mouth. There is also a virally transmitted type of cancer that affects the tonsillar area, back of throat and base of tongue. This is a much newer profile affecting mainly younger white males and is caused by a very common virus; the Human papillomavirus, or HPV. The historic pathways of smoking and long term alcohol use generally affect an older age group directly influenced by the years of exposure to both risk factors. The HPV profile is the fastest growing segment of predominantly back of the tongue and throat cancers. These areas are, of course, much more challenging to visualize and assess. With this in mind, here is some advice on how to check for oral cancer.
How Do You Check For Oral Cancer?
A complete head and neck examination should be done on every adult once a year. This is performed at the dental practice and consists of feeling the neck for any signs of enlarged lymph nodes. The examination also involves an oral cancer screening examination checking the lips and inside the mouth including gum tissues, inside the cheeks, the tongue (top, bottom and both sides), floor of the mouth, palate and as far back as we can see into the throat and tonsillar areas.
Many practices also offer an enhanced assessment using a handheld scope that provides clinicians with an opportunity to see what may not have been visible to the naked eye under white light examination. This is especially important as cancers often start beneath the surface. The tool is called VELscope and uses a simple process taking about two minutes. The device, VELscope, has been recognized by the World Health Organization as an innovative technology that effectively addresses a global concern – oral cancer.
Between visits it is important to self-examine your mouth for anything new and particularly anything that persists for more than 14 days. The ‘Check Your Mouth’ campaign was recently launched in an effort to elevate awareness of self-exam in the hopes of finding oral cancer in the earliest stages. Due to oral cancer often being painless, a patient may forego a dental or medical appointment to evaluate and wait until the next regularly scheduled appointment. Time is critical when it comes to cancer development. The ‘Check Your Mouth’ website provides a step-by-step video demonstrating the self-examination technique as well as what to look for. Visit www.checkyourmouth.org for additional information.
Regular dental check-ups with an annual head and neck examination including an oral cancer screening, finding a practice that offers enhanced screening with VELscope (click here to visit our Find a Practice Tool) and checking your mouth in between dental visits will provide you with the best possible opportunity to find something in its earliest stages.
Author: Jo-Anne Jones