Oral Cancer Exam

According to research conducted by the American Cancer society, more than 30,000 cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each year.  More than 7,000 of these cases result in the death of the patient.  The good news is that oral cancer can easily be diagnosed with an annual oral cancer exam, and effectively treated when caught in its earliest stages.

Oral cancer is a pathologic process which begins with an asymptomatic stage during which the usual cancer signs may not be readily noticeable.  This makes the oral cancer examinations performed by the dentist critically important.  Oral cancers can be of varied histologic types such as teratoma, adenocarcinoma and melanoma.  The most common type of oral cancer is the malignant squamous cell carcinoma.  This oral cancer type usually originates in lip and mouth tissues.

There are many different places in the oral cavity and maxillofacial region in which oral cancers commonly occur, including:

  • Lips
  • Mouth
  • Tongue
  • Salivary Glands
  • Oropharyngeal Region (throat)
  • Gums
  • Face

Reasons for oral cancer examinations

It is important to note that around 75 percent of oral cancers are linked with modifiable behaviors such as smoking, tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption.  Dr. Kend or Dr. Thunberg can provide literature and education on making lifestyle changes and help you with smoking cessation.

When oral cancer is diagnosed in its earliest stages, treatment is generally very effective.  Any noticeable abnormalities in the tongue, gums, mouth or surrounding area should be evaluated by a health professional as quickly as possible.  During the oral cancer exam, our doctors and dental hygienists will be scrutinizing the maxillofacial and oral regions carefully for signs of pathologic changes. 

The following signs will be investigated during a routine oral cancer exam:

  • Red patches and sores – Red patches on the floor of the mouth, the front and sides of the tongue, white or pink patches which fail to heal and slow healing sores that bleed easily can be indicative of pathologic (cancerous) changes.
  • Leukoplakia – This is a hardened white or gray, slightly raised lesion that can appear anywhere inside the mouth. Leukoplakia can be cancerous, or may become cancerous if treatment is not sought.
  • Lumps – Soreness, lumps or the general thickening of tissue anywhere in the throat or mouth can signal pathological problems.

Oral cancer exams, diagnosis and treatment

The oral cancer examination is a completely painless process.  During the visual part of the examination, Dr. Kend or Dr. Thunberg will look for abnormalities and feel the face, glands and neck for anyunusual bumps.  They will also inspect your tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth and both your hard and soft palate for any abnormal lesions. 

If abnormalities, lesions, leukoplakia or lumps are apparent, Dr. Kend or Dr. Thunberg will discuss their visual findings with you and decide on an appropriate course of treatment.   If a biopsy is the treatment of choice, it may be performed in our office or you may be referred to an oral surgeon in the area.    The biopsy includes a laboratory evaluation which will identify the precise stage and grade of the oral lesion.

Oral cancer is deemed to be present when the basement membrane of the epithelium has been broken.  Malignant types of cancer can readily spread to other places in the oral and maxillofacial regions, posing additional secondary threats.  Treatment methods vary according to the precise diagnosis, but may include excision, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

During your annual check-up Dr. Kend or Dr. Thunberg will thoroughly look for changes and lesions in the mouth.  Also, during your cleaniings your hygenist will also do a visual exam and alert the doctor of any abnormal findings.

If you have any questions or concerns about oral cancer, please ask Dr. Kend or Dr. Thunberg at your next exam.