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Oral Cancer Exam

Check It Out!

If you're concerned that you may be at risk for oral cancer, it might be difficult to talk about it with friends. Reading about oral cancer can help shed some light, but don't use the information to try to self-diagnose. Get an oral cancer examination from your dentist -- it's easy and pain-free.

Oral Cancer Facts

There are two types of oral cancer: oral cavity cancer, which starts in the mouth; and oropharyngeal cancer, which develops in the part of the throat behind the mouth.

Certain behaviors such as smoking, chewing tobacco, drinking alcohol excessively and sunbathing can put you at an increased risk for developing oral cancer.

In addition, men are at twice the risk of developing oral cancer, as are people older than 35. Actually, more than half of oral cancer patients are 68 and older.

However, it's important to keep in mind that more than 25 percent of oral cancers occur in people who do not smoke and have no other risk factors.

The good news is the earlier you get an oral cancer exam, the easier it is to treat. In fact, when oral cancer is diagnosed and treated in the early stages, the chances of successful recovery rises dramatically.

What to Expect from an Oral Cancer Exam

It's easy to schedule an oral cancer exam -- your dentist can perform an oral cancer exam as a standalone appointment or during one of your regular dental visits.

A professional oral cancer exam is both visual and tactile. Using both hands, your dentist will examine:

  • The roof and floor of your mouth, as well as the back of your throat
  • The base of your tongue and its underside to check for swelling or abnormal color or texture
  • The insides of your lips and cheeks to check for signs such as red or white patches
  • The area under your jaw and the side of your neck to check for lumps that may suggest cancer

Any areas that look suspicious will require a biopsy, which involves the removal of tissue for microscopic examination. A biopsy is the only definitive way to determine whether or not you have oral cancer.

Oral cancer doesn't have to be an unwelcome surprise -- you can take an active role in detecting oral cancer. If you think you might be at risk, give yourself an oral cancer self-exam at least once a month.

Look for warning signs inside the mouth such as:

  • White or red spots, patches or lesions
  • Lumps, rough spots or crusted areas
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together

And watch out for other symptoms including:

  • A change in your voice
  • A lump in your neck
  • Drastic weight loss

If you detect any of these symptoms and they persist for more than two weeks, don't wait to visit your dentist for a professional oral cancer exam.