Oral Cancer Awareness Month

How Do I Know if It’s Oral Cancer? 5 Simple Steps

What’s Behind the Huge Rise in Oral Cancers? What if we do find something unusual or different inside our mouth? How do I know if it's oral cancer

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The headline news in today’s world is daunting to say the least. “The Startling Rise in Oral Cancer in Men”, “Oral Cancer Rates Rise by Two-Thirds”, “What’s Behind the Huge Rise in Oral Cancers?’ just to quote a few. What if we do find something unusual or different inside our mouth? How do I know if it’s oral cancer?

  1. The finding resolves on its own.  First rule of thumb is persistence. Anything unusual that persists beyond 14 days should always be investigated. A trip to your dentist to further evaluate a finding is critical. At that time the dentist may be able to identify the cause or may choose to evaluate further through the means of a small sampling of tissue or a biopsy. Either way, this needs to be addressed. Don’t wait!
  2. The finding is on both sides of the mouth. If the identifying lesion is present on both sides of the mouth, it is most likely part of the normal anatomical makeup. Asymmetry or presence on only one side raises more of a concern.
  3. The finding is initiated by trauma. An unusual finding may be caused by trauma; something as simple as biting your cheek or burning the palatal tissue with a slice of hot pizza can bring an area of the mouth to our attention. Again something of this nature should resolve within 7 – 10 days on its own and if it persists for more than 14 days, seek further evaluation.   
  4. The finding recurs and subsequently resolves on its own. A recurring sore that repeatedly resolves on its own is most likely initiated by trauma, stress or sometimes dietary aspects and is referred to as an aphthous ulcer or canker sore.  Typically a canker sore will last 7 – 10 days with the acute pain occurring when the lesion ulcerates. This happens in the middle of the duration of the canker sore and usually lasts 3 – 4 days.   
  5. The finding accompanies an illness and resolves on its own. There are a number of different illnesses that are accompanied by oral lesions or sores that may be found throughout the mouth. Typically the patient is experiencing general malaise, fever and would be directed to see a physician. The lesions once again resolve on their own.

Chances are if a finding meets the criteria above it is not oral cancer however there is only one way to know for sure and that is through further professional investigation. 

The point here is that in today’s world with oral, tonsillar and throat cancer on the rise, it is prudent to be knowledgeable and aware. Self examination between dental visits is vitally important as it allows for earlier discovery of anything abnormal. An oral cancer screening examination which includes checking the lymph nodes of the neck should be done on an annual basis.

Additional screening with a device such as VELscope which enables the dentist or dental hygienist to see beneath the surface where abnormal cells begin to develop provides an enhanced opportunity to again discover oral cancer in its earliest possible stage. To find a practice near you that offers the VELscope Vx examination, visit our Find a Practice Tool and enter your postal or zip code.   

Author: Jo-Anne Jones

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