When you think of cancer and the various types, many people don’t immediately think of oral cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, females have 0.71% chance and males a 1.7% chance of developing this particular type of cancer. Being oral physicians, we recognize that the earlier we can spot potential areas of concern, the quicker we can treat any cancer and prevent its spread. If caught early, the National Cancer Institute estimates patients will have a 90% survival rate for 5 years after being diagnosed. It is our goal to increase that survival rate by screening patients annually. In today’s post, we’ll be delving into our process for screening patients for oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer (cancer of the head and neck).
Using the VELscope VX
During our regular cleanings, we screen patients at least once a year for such cancers. While the patient is still resting comfortably in our exam chair, we utilize a specific telescope to look for abnormalities that may indicate carcinogenic cells. Our office uses a state-of-the-art machine, the VELscope VX, to see potentially cancerous areas that are still invisible to the naked eye. Funded during its development by the NIH (National Institutes of Health), the Velscope VX system utilizes a blue fluorescence light to look into a patient’s mouth. The light will cause any lesions to show as a darker color than the rest of the surrounding tissue.
The telescope isn’t used in isolation. It is part of a two-step process to make sure nothing is missed. As part of our normal hygiene checkup, we also visually check for any abnormal patches or sores and will sometimes feel the tissues in your mouth for lumps. You may feel us touch your neck and throat, checking for lumps as well. Using a tactical and visual check with our own hands and eyes, coupled with the powerful telescope, helps to ensure we haven’t missed any potential areas of concern. If areas of concern are present, we refer patients to specialists for deeper testing of those areas in question.
Symptoms of Oral Cancer
Aside from the checks, dental professionals do on patients, it is always a good idea to pay attention to your own body’s changes and know when to seek help. Common symptoms of oral cancer can sometimes be simply related to other illnesses such as a cold or allergy, hormonal fluctuations, or other causes that are not concerning. If any symptoms linger or seem to progress, it’s a good idea to seek medical advice to rule out potentially more serious illnesses such as cancer.
- Patches (white, red, or speckled), spots, lumps, or swelling on the lips, gum, or other areas in the mouth
- Unexplained numbness or tenderness on the face, mouth, or neck
- Sores that do not seem to heal. Typically if longer than 2 weeks, you should have the sore looked at.
- Problems chewing, talking, or swallowing. Any odd tightness and issues with your jaw or tongue.
- Sore throat that does not go away
- Change in voice, teeth alignment
- Ear pain that does not go away
- Quick weight loss
We hope none of our patients are ever faced with battling oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer, which is why we stress to all of our patient “family” at Bynum Aesthetic Dentistry the importance of our thorough screenings. If your Greenville dentist is not currently testing you or inspecting your mouth beyond just your smile, call us today to book an appointment at our Simpsonville office.