Some early cancers have symptoms that cause patients to seek medical or dental attention. Unfortunately, some cancers may not cause symptoms until they've reached an advanced stage or may cause symptoms similar to those caused by a disease other than cancer, such as periodontal (gum) disease. For this reason, it’s important that you visit your dentist regularly for a routine dental checkup. An oral cancer screening should be a part of a routine dental check-up and can identify oral cancers and pre-cancerous areas early.1 Your dentist will check your mouth and throat for red or white patches, lumps, swelling, or other problems.1 The exam includes looking carefully at the roof of your mouth, back of your throat, and insides of your cheeks and lips, your dentist will also gently pull out your tongue to check the sides and underneath.1 The floor of your mouth and lymph nodes in your neck will also be checked.1
Any sore, discoloration, induration, prominent (exophytic) tissue, irritation, hoarseness, complaints of difficulty in swallowing, unilateral earaches, which do not resolve on its own, with or without treatment, within a two week period should be considered suspect and worthy of further examination or referral.3 If your dentist identifies a suspicious area, he or she may perform a brush biopsy of the area, using a small brush to gather cell samples. The specimen is then sent to a lab for computer analysis. Your dentist may also recommend an incisional biopsy, where the dentist removes part of the suspicious area for further laboratory testing.3 The only way to diagnose oral cancer is through biopsy3.
Ask your dentist about an oral cancer screening if you are unsure one has been completed.