Oral cancer afflicts more than 50 million Americans each and every year. As with most forms of cancer, early detection is crucial for successful treatment. This is one more reason why seeing your dentist for regular exams is so important. The few minutes a screening takes could literally be the difference between life and death.
The Right Training and the Right Setting
Like all medical professionals, dentists are trained to be keen observers. Their job is to diagnose the underlying problem and to apply the correct solution. The office setting allows the dentist to examine not only the tissues inside the mouth but also those of the lips, face, and throat. This makes it the ideal environment in which to perform an oral cancer screening.
What to Expect During an Oral Cancer Screening
The screening only takes a couple of minutes. It occurs while you’re sitting in the dental chair. Your dentist will closely check your skin for signs of problems, looking for symptoms such as open sores, discolored areas, unusual bumps, etc. He or she will probably make small talk with you during the procedure to help you relax. In fact, you may not even know that the screening is occurring.
If your dentist notices any problem areas, then the next step is to remove a very small sample of skin cells for a biopsy. Traditionally this is done with a scalpel. Nowadays many dentists are using a small brush or a handheld medical laser instead.
The sample will be sent to a dental lab for analysis. The office will let you know right away when the results are in. If cancer is detected, then treatment will begin as soon as possible. The form it takes will depend on the type of cancer, the stage of the disease, and your overall health.
A Growing Array of Treatments for Oral Cancer
Research over the past 20 years has revolutionized the way that cancer is treated in the United States. Older approaches are constantly being updated, while new treatments are entering the market. This gives new hope to cancer patients for enjoying long-term recovery. Options your doctor may recommend include:
- Surgical removal of the cancer: this may be all the treatment that’s needed, especially if the illness is still in its early stages. Surgery may take place on an outpatient basis, meaning you can arrive and go home the same day as the procedure.
- Targeted drug therapy: unlike traditional chemotherapy, this approach uses focused amounts of specific medications that are designed to attack tumors directly, while causing minimal disruption to normal cells.
- Radiation: it’s long been known that radioactive materials can destroy cancer cells. Today’s methods use minute amounts of radiation to accomplish this purpose, making the therapeutic process both gentler and more effective than in the past.
- Immunotherapy: one of the challenges with treating cancer is that the body doesn’t recognize the presence of the disease. Immunotherapy teaches your immune system to recognize the condition and to attack it. This approach can lead to dramatic and positive results.
Oral cancer doesn’t have to catch you unawares. See your dentist or other healthcare professional soon for a screening. When it’s over, give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back for a job well done.
About the Author
Dr. Suzan Rismani-Flenniken attended dental school in both France and the US, earning her DDS degree from Howard University in 1997. Her extensive training and experience allow her to perform a wide range of dental services, including oral cancer screenings. You can reach her office online or by calling (703) 714-7374.