Why Screening for Oral Cancer Should be a Regular Part of Your Dental Care

Oral cancer is the uncontrollable growth of cells that invade the oral cavity (mouth) and the oropharynx (part of the throat at the back of the mouth). Some of the risk factors for oral cancer include the following:

  • Tobacco Use: This accounts for most of the oral cancers. Cigarettes and all other forms of tobacco use may result in oral cancer.
  • Alcohol: People who drink alcohol are more likely to develop oral cancer more than people who don’t drink.
  • Sun exposure: Lip cancer is often caused by excessive sun exposure.

In the past, oral cancer was considered to have a low incidence of occurring. However, this is changing. Oral cancer is increasing. Over the past 30 years, oral cancer has increased in adults under 40 years old. Approximately, 35,000 people in the US were newly diagnosed with oral cancer in 2008 (Oral Cancer Foundation). In addition, oral cancer is diagnosed in about 100 new people each day.

If oral cancer is identified early, there is an 80-90% survival rate. Unfortunately, the majority of the oral cancers are being diagnosed at a later stage. This accounts for a high death rate of 45% at 5 years from diagnosis. One of the major reasons for late stage diagnosis is the lack of public awareness about the importance of early prevention and screening during a dental exam.

Oral cancer screening is essential for identifying cancer at an earlier stage. When oral cancer is identified at an earlier stage, it is easier to treat. When reviewing treatment options for oral cancer, the most effective strategy is to focus on prevention and early detection. Due to the increasing oral cancer morbidity and mortality rates, it is essential for dentists to incorporate oral screening in regular dental care exams. The oral examination is easy to assess and an oral cancer examination provides very little discomfort for patients.