Preventing Oral Cancer: 2 Livesaving Screening Tests

Learn about the breakthrough screening tests that can be performed by your dentist, as well as the signs and symptoms of oral cancer. By Jonathan B. Levine, DMD

Posted on | By Jonathan B. Levine, DMD

Oral cancer can be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated early. In fact, 37,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer in 2011 alone and it will cause over 8,000 deaths by the end of the year. This means that roughly 1 person is dying per hour, 24 hours per day, all from something that could have been prevented or slowed with early detection. Oral cancer is one of the easiest cancers to spot and diagnose, yet only 15% of the population has had an oral cancer evaluation.

Breakthrough Screening Tests

There are two new breakthrough screening tests that can be administered by dental professionals that make it simple and painless to diagnose oral cancer. The first is the Velscope, which sees early changes in the cells in the mouth where they become dysplastic or unhealthy. The Velscope’s blue spectrum light causes the soft tissues of the mouth to naturally fluoresce, looking like a green apple color. If there is an abnormality, a dysplasia or unhealthy cell, the oral health professional will see the green color turn black.

If abnormal tissue appears, there is a second revolutionary screening test, the Oral CDX brush. This test is like a pap smear for your mouth. The pap smear has had a huge impact on survival rates for cervical cancer; since routine use, cervical cancer has gone from being the 2nd to the 11th leading cause of death. The Oral CDX brush can save lives in much the same way through an oral cancer screening process.

Early Detection and Prevention

Always remember, early detection is vital to prevention. The earliest prevention lies in making slight changes to your lifestyle. You can lower your risk of oral cancer while maintaining a healthier lifestyle by limiting alcohol consumption and tobacco use, limiting exposure to UV radiation or excessive sun, practicing safe sex, and eating foods high in antioxidants.

Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer

The signs and symptoms of oral cancer are a lump in the throat, a thickening or lump(s) in the lining of the mouth, tongue numbness, red or white lesions in the mouth, and any dark blue or black spots on the tongue. You can spot these signs of oral cancer by performing an easy and simple at-home self-examination once a week. Give yourself a little “Ahhhh” in front of the mirror and check out your tongue (top and bottom), your gum areas, the back of your mouth, and the inside cheek areas of your mouth. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your dentist for an immediate oral examination and diagnosis.

The increase of oral cancer in young people without the normal high risk factors (i.e. alcohol and tobacco use), along with the fact that oral cancer rates have not decreased over the last 40 years even though people do visit their dentist more often, leads us to the conclusion that you must demand an oral screening test when you go to your dentist – and this must happen at least once a year. This routine check-up could save your life!!!

Article written by Jonathan B. Levine, DMD
Clinical Prof. NYU, Prosthodontist, Reconstruction & Aesthetic Dentistry