Detecting and Treating Oral Cancer Earlier Than Ever Before
It is a sad but true statistic that 35,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year and that the disease will take the lives 7,500 people in that same time period (National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research). It is because of the difficulty in detecting oral cancer early that the disease has one of the worst survival rates of all cancers with, on average, only 60 percent of those diagnosed surviving more than five years.
Though detection is difficult, it is not impossible, and dentists and researchers across the country have made strides in diagnosing oral cancer in its earliest stages. Most telling are changes that occur in the tissue in the mouth that signal the early stages of the disease.
In the past, oral cancer could only be detected visually. The problems is that once a lesion or tumor is visible, it usually means that it is also pretty advanced and may have even spread to other parts of the body. Thankfully, more dentists have updated their oral cancer screenings to include not only visual scans, but also the use of illumination tools to spot early changes in tissue in the mouth.
As Richard Cavallaro D.D.S. of Lemon Grove Dental explains, during the screening process, a patient is first asked to swish a special fluid around in his mouth until every area of the tongue, gums, cheeks, and palate are properly coated. Then, he continues, the dentist uses a specially designed light to illuminate the inside of the mouth. If the patient has no lesions, then the light will be absorbed and the patient’s mouth will appear dark, but abnormal growths will glow. If no tumors present themselves, the dentist can move on with exam. However, if any areas of concern arise, then the dentist will take the appropriate steps to properly identify the spot.
In addition to detecting oral cancer earlier than ever before, dentists are also able to remove tumors and treat cancerous areas of the oral cavity more precisely as well. In his San Diego office, Dr. Cavallaro uses laser dentistry for a number of treatments and explains that removing cancer from the mouth is now more successful thanks to new technology. Lasers, he says, can also be used as a cutting tool in removing oral cavity cancers with more precision and without scarring the area significantly.
Making sure that oral cancer screenings become a part of your dental checkups is a great first step for protecting yourself. With more dentists using new screening technology in their offices and detecting oral cancer as early as possible, the unfortunate number of deaths caused by the disease can be drastically reduced. However, ultimately, oral cancer detection starts with you.
*Disclaimer: The information on this website is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your healthcare provider. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with an appropriate healthcare provider.