It is a good idea to have your mouth checked for signs of oral cancel annually.
Identifying the Signs of Cancer
Your health care provider will inspect your face, neck, lips, and mouth to look for any signs of cancer. Besides obvious indicators, such as some types of sores, some indications of cancer are very subtle: Is there asymmetry, or does part of your external mouth not move well, or possibly droop? Some Dentists are looking at these things when you first approach and sit in the chair, and it may not be apparent to you, that their observations are actually taking place. A good practitioner is attentive to these small give-aways; a slur in your speech, a corner of the mouth that does not seem to move well in concert with everything else, a subtle swelling on one side of your face causing asymmetry. These indicators alone are not areas of specific oral cancer concern, but they are all pieces of a puzzle of signs which may indicate a need for a detailed evaluation, or diagnostic procedure.
Getting a Good Oral Cancer Exam
With both hands, your Dentist will feel the external area under your jaw and the sides of your neck, checking for lumps (enlarged lymph nodes) that may suggest inflammation. Many times if these nodes are painless, but hard and enlarged, and feel like they are fixated in position, it can be a sign of cancer. When feeling the floor of your mouth (bi-manually palpating it), a finger is placed under your tongue and the fingers of the other hand placed under your chin. Rolling the soft tissues of the floor of your mouth between the two, they can detect enlarged nodes or other hard spots called indurations that may be an area of concern. Anyone not using their fingers to examine you and only looking with a mirror, or worse using just a pair of wooden tongue blades, is going to miss things. Touch is important. He or she will then look at and feel the insides of your lips and cheeks to check for possible signs of cancer, or pre-cancerous tissues changes, such as red and/or white patches, or thickened areas. Your Dentist will have you stick out your tongue so it can be checked for swelling or abnormal color or texture. They will be watching to see if as you extend your tongue, if it deviates to one side or the other, which is a possible sign that something is affecting the nerves which control its movement. Then, using a small piece of gauze, your Dentist will gently pull your tongue to one side and then the other, to fully visualize the tongue’s edges. The edges of the tongue are a common location for cancerous lesions to occur. They will likely feel the boarders of the tongue (again for hard spots) at the same time. A common site for oral cancer to occur is the base of the tongue where it begins to curve down your throat. This area cannot be visualized well unless the tongue is pulled forward, and the gauze is necessary to do this. This is an important location to examine, as well as the underside of the tongue.
A Visual and Tactile Exam
A good oral cancer exam is visual and tactile. It takes eyes trained in what and where to look for things, and gloved fingers to feel particular areas as well. These are some of the things that you should expect. Some Dentists will use additional devices to do the exam. These might be different kinds of lights and pre-examination rinses that help them visualize areas of suspicion, or they may even use a dye.
Getting Checked Regularly
An Oral Cancer Exam is not a postponable elective procedure. Annual opportunistic oral cancer exams are a must. You could ask the Dentist to walk you through a “guided tour” of your Cancer Exam while you are in the office. When you are aware of what your normal mouth looks like, any routine exams you do at home by yourself will allow you to recognize any changes that are taking place. These home examinations are particularly important if you are engaged in any known risk factors for developing the disease such as smoking or using smokeless tobacco. When you go in for your next exam, remember to bring to the examiners attention any area of concern that you may have felt or noticed. While it may be nothing, there is no harm in ensuring that your concerns have been examined carefully and the doctor has an opportunity to evaluate what you have noticed.
Early detection of oral cancers by your professional examiner or yourself is the key to survival of this disease.