Oral tumors / cancer can develop anywhere in the oral cavity and oropharynx (or the back of the mouth where it connects with the throat). Some tumors are benign (noncancerous), some may be precancerous (a condition that may become cancerous), while others may be cancerous. Different types of oral cancer may develop in different areas of the mouth and throat. As part of your routine dental exam, your dentist will conduct an oral cancer screening exam.
Factors That May Cause Cancer
Research has identified a number of factors that may contribute to the development of oral cancer. The most common are the use of tobacco and alcohol. Others include poor oral hygiene, irritation caused by ill-fitting dentures and rough surfaces on teeth, poor nutrition, some chronic infections and combinations of these factors.
Studies have shown that the death rate from oral cancer is about four times higher for cigarette smokers than for nonsmokers. It is also widely believed in the medical field that the heat generated by smoking pipes and cigars irritates the mouth and can lead to lip cancer.
Those at an especially high risk of developing oral cancer are over 40 years of age, heavy drinkers and smokers, or users of smokeless tobacco, including snuff.
Perform a Self-Exam Monthly
It is recommended by Oral and maxillofacial surgeons that everyone perform an oral cancer self-exam each month. If you are at high risk for oral cancer — smoker, consumer of alcohol, user of smokeless tobacco, or snuff — you should see your general dentist or oral and maxillofacial surgeon for an annual exam.
An oral examination is performed using a bright light and a mirror:
- Remove any dentures
- Look and feel inside the lips and the front of gums
- Tilt head back to inspect and feel the roof of your mouth
- Pull the cheek out to see its inside surface as well as the back of the gums
- Pull out your tongue and look at all of its surfaces
- Feel for lumps or enlarged lymph nodes (glands) in both sides of the neck including under the lower jaw.
When performing oral cancer self-examination, look for the following:
See Dr. Adams here at Carolina Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Center if you have any of these signs. If he agrees that something looks suspicious, a biopsy may be recommended. A biopsy involves the removal of a piece of the suspicious tissue, which is then sent to a pathology laboratory for a microscopic examination that will accurately diagnose the problem. The biopsy report not only helps establish a diagnosis, but also enables the doctor to develop a specific plan of treatment.
Reprinted with permission from American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons.