When you make your six-month appointment at the dentist, you know just what to expect: dental x-rays, the hygienist using special tools to clean off plaque and check your gums, the high-powered polishing that buffs away stain, then your dentist examining your teeth and checking for new cavities.
Then he asks you something new: can you lift your tongue? Have you noticed any sore spots in your mouth? He feels the floor of your mouth, checks the sides of your tongue, and then feels your cheeks and neck.
He’s not examining your teeth anymore; he’s checking for signs of oral cancer. When it comes to preventative dental care, an oral cancer exam is one of the most important parts of your entire appointment.
Aren’t Oral Cancers Caused by Smoking or Drinking Alcohol?
Smoking can be a cause of oral cancer, but it’s not the only one. Any tobacco use, including “smokeless” chewing tobacco can be a trigger for pathology in the mouth, as can sun exposure or alcohol use.
Research has even shown a link to a viral cause in some cases; HPV, or human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted disease, has been shown to be a causative agent. We now know that this virus can be spread by kissing!
Considering that most adults have an HPV strain in their system, it’s not surprising that incidences of oral cancer have been on the rise, even as cigarette use has declined. Some additional facts you might not be aware of, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation:
- Oral Cancer is the sixth most diagnosed cancer.
- Between 45K-55K people will be diagnosed with it in North America in this year.
- The 5-year survival rate is 57%.
- In North America approximately one person dies every hour, from oral cancer.
With all the strides in cancer research, prevention and treatment in the past twenty years, you might be wondering why the outlook is so bleak for cancers of the mouth. But if you think about it, you’ll figure it out.
Education for regular, early testing for skin cancer, breast cancer, and cervical cancer is everywhere. People know to wear sunscreen and check the margins and color of their moles. Most women know to check monthly for breast irregularities and have a test annually for cervical cancer.
But almost no one besides your dentist knows what to be on the lookout for when it comes to oral cancer. Additionally, while the screenings for breast cancer is visual, tactile, and mechanical using a mammogram, the screening for oral cancer is primarily visual. Oral cancer can grow and metastasize without being observed or causing pain.
By the time a person catches oral cancer on their own, it has usually reached an advanced and deadly stage.
A More Effective Way to Screen for Cancer
Luckily, advanced tools to screen for oral cancer do exist. While they aren’t a popular choice among most dentists, Dr. Cegielski places a high value on early cancer detection for his patients and uses a particular tool to screen for oral cancer: the VELscope.
VELscope oral cancer screening detects precancerous lesions on your soft tissues before they can be detected through a traditional visual or palpation exam.
The earlier cancer is detected, the more effective and successful it is to treat. This is as true for oral cancer as it is for any other form.
Schedule your next dental visit with Dr. Cegielski’s North Vancouver office for a complete oral exam including a VELscope cancer screening.