How do you know if you have oral cancer? As many as 37,000 Americans may have oral cancer right now and have no idea about it. Eventually oral cancer develops into a hard to ignore lesion on the inside of the mouth or throat which is very painful and discolored. But in the early stages of the disease these lumps can be small and unnoticeable. And before that stage the cancer will start as a few cancerous cells which are invisible to the naked eye. The only way to catch the disease at this stage is through an oral cancer screening like the Vizilite screening offered at South Charlotte Dentistry.
It is true that oral cancers may be found through a regular visual examination of the mouth. Dr. Wells will be able to spot potentially cancerous lumps by sight or touch. But this can only be done once the cancer progresses to a certain stage. In this stage the cancer has already had time to grow and worsen, and the sooner the cancer is detected the easier it is to treat. The Visilite system was made to help identify cancerous and precancerous cells that would not otherwise be found during a normal visual exam. In the pictures below, we can see exactly how difficult it would be to see these precancerous and cancerous cells without the help of the Vizilite screening test.
There is some debate on whether it is medically necessary for patients to undergo a screening test. Some argue that because data has been inconclusive as to whether or not this procedure gives a significant advantage to the patient, it could be better to wait until the dentist can identify the cancer with a regular visual exam.
But why would you want to take the risk? The data has been so far inconclusive because studies have been focused on the immense level of efficiency that the screenings have, rather than on whether or not it is safe to wait until cancer can be detected visually. It is common knowledge that the earlier a cancer, or any disease for that matter, is detected then the sooner a patient can begin treatment. If treatment is given early, the risk of the cancer metastasizing (spreading to other areas of the body) is decreased significantly. If found at the earliest stages oral cancer has a high survivability rate. According to the National Cancer Institute, “When abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat. By the time symptoms appear, cancer may have begun to spread.”
Many people will still wonder if it is necessary for them to undergo screening. Risk of developing oral cancer increases depending on lifestyle choices of the patient. Smoking and smokeless tobacco are the most frequent causes of oral cancer. If you are a tobacco user it is absolutely necessary to be tested regularly, in order to catch cancers in their earliest stages. Alcohol consumption is also a major risk factor for developing oral cancer, and the risks can be compounded if you are both a tobacco user and a user of alcohol.
Even if you do not smoke, chew tobacco, or drink you may still be at risk for developing oral cancer. A less common risk factor for developing oral cancer is a recent hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, or HSCT. But for those of us who do not fall under any of these categories there is still the risk of developing cancer through genealogical factors and exposure to the increasingly common Human Papillomavirus which is more often known as HPV. If you are at risk of developing oral HPV, there is a significant danger of you developing oral cancer. Men are also more likely to develop cancer, especially those older than 40.
The dangers of waiting for cancers to develop into later stages are numerous and devastating. If oral cancer is not treated quickly, potential consequences include removal of the tongue, removal of the lower jaw, and radical neck dissection. If left untreated long enough oral cancers can even be fatal.
You shouldn’t wait until you think you may have cancer to come see Dr. Wells. Cancer screenings are given to patients with no cancer symptoms. If you would like to schedule a cancer screening with Dr. Wells you can call his Ballantyne office at 704-759-0908, or click here.