In 2008, it was estimated by the Oral Cancer Foundation that 35,000 people in the U.S. would be diagnosed with oral cancer. At all periodontal maintenance appointments, our hygienist will perform an oral cancer screening. When found early, oral cancers have an 80-90% survival rate.
A biopsy may be recommended for an unusual growth or sore in the mouth that does not heal on its own in one to three weeks. This will help determine whether the lesion is precancerous or cancerous. Precancerous lesions are abnormal cell growths that may become cancer. Cancerous lesions are cell changes that may be life-threatening. Early detection is vital to treatment of all types of cancer, including oral cancers.
In order to take a biopsy of a suspicious lesion, the area is gently numbed. A part of the suspicious area will be removed and sent to a laboratory for microscopic evaluation. Other tests that may be performed include staining and cytology.
Staining: the lesion may be stained with a special dye and the viewed with a light that can help differentiate between cancerous cells and normal cells.
Cytology: the lesion may be gently scraped with a special brush that will lift cells from the lesion to be sent to a laboratory for examination.
Results of the biopsy will determine what type of treatment is recommended.
Surgery: The lesion and surrounding tissues will be surgically removed.
Radiation therapy: Radiation can be an effective treatment to kill cancerous cells.
Chemotherapy: Oral or IV medications may be used to chemically kill cancerous cells.
Combination therapy: any combination of the above therapies.
Fear of the unknown is a common but unfortunate reason for ignoring warning signs and symptoms that indicate something is abnormal. Remember that the best way to reduce the risk for oral cancer is to get regular check-ups, avoid use of tobacco and limit alcohol intake. A healthy diet and excellent oral hygiene contribute to better oral health and overall health. Most importantly, remember that any suspicious lesion should be evaluated by a dental professional, where the proper steps can be taken to help ensure your continued good oral health.