How Laser Treatment Prevents Oral Cancer

Oral cancer is one of the most frightening diagnoses you can receive.  Oral cancers have a higher fatality rate than many other types of cancer, and survival rates are showing few indications of improvement. However, laser treatments are helping dentists diagnose and treat oral cancer more effectively now more than ever before. According to Dr. Jean Furuyama, lead dentist at Waterside Dental in New York, New York, lasers are often used “to remove small growths from the lips or mouth. If the growth is very small, we will remove the entire growth by isolating it with a small tissue holder and cutting all around the peripherie with the laser used as a scapel. The specimen is sent to the laboratory for microscopic analysis.” This helps patients cope during a stressful time by reducing pain during the diagnosis phase.

In some cases, laser treatments prevent oral cancer from ever beginning. During a routine dental exam, your dentist may see white lesions. These lesions are called leukoplakia and they have a higher risk of turning into oral cancer. The laser treatments are used to eliminate the precancerous cells in leukoplakia. When the laser is applied to the lesion, the intenst beam of light destroys the lesion which may contain or develop into cancer cells. Those who have undergone the procedure report the laser treatment is not painful, and it is one of the best cancer prevention methods available today. Research has shown that the more effectively precancerous cells are eliminated, the less risk there is for future development of cancer.

Who is at Risk?

While anyone could develop leukoplakia and oral cancer, tobacco users are at a greater risk as are patients suffering from HIV. The leukoplakia phase of oral cancer can also be caused in response to persistent irritation. Those with fillings, dentures, or crowns, as well as tobacco users, may be more likely to develop leukoplakia. Research has also shown that alcohol use may also increase the risk for developing leukoplakia, while a diet high in vegetables and fruits may lower the risk.

When to See Your Dentist

The best way to deal with oral cancer and increase your chances of survival is to see your dentist as soon as possible if you believe you have a problem. If a white or red spot appears on the inside of your mouth or on your tongue, and it remains visible for more than two weeks, contact your dentist. Regular dental visits will also help you avoid serious problems with leukoplakia. Biannual cleanings mean your dentist will be familiar with your mouth, and she will know what is normal and what may be a problem. You may not be able to see all of the parts of your mouth, and leukoplakia may not be painful, so having your dentist perform a thorough exam twice a year increases the likelihood leukoplakia will be spotted.

As leukoplakia develops into oral cancer, you may experience additional symptoms. These include a change in the color of your oral tissue; pain, tenderness, or numbess near the site of the leukoplakia or elsewhere in your mouth; a change in how your teeth fit together; sores that bleed and do not heal; thick spots, lumps, or crusty areas in the mouth; and difficulty swallowing, chewing, speaking, or moving your tongue or jaw.

Treatment

Obviously, oral cancer is best treated in the leukoplakia stage, while abnormal cells are still precancerous. If your dentist is concerned about something she sees during an exam, she will have the cells biopsied. This is done by removing a portion of the lesion or suspect area and can be done using a laser. Your dentist can “cut,” with the laser, around the lesion, making the process less painful and safer. According to Dr. Furuyama, “In most cases, the area doesn’t even need sutures and heals painlessly in a week or so. Done with a traditional scapel, the area would have had to have stitches and would have been far more uncomfortable. With the laser, the discomfort is minimal and the healing incredibly fast.” Patients may also undergo x-rays or MRI scans. If cancer is found, surgery may be necessary, as well as radiation or chemotherapy.

If you are concerned about your risk for oral cancer, or you believe you have developed leukoplakia and you would like an experienced dentist to complete an examination, contact Dr. Furuyama at Waterside Dental.

*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.

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