Cancer may be regarded as a group of disease characterized by abnormal cell growth, ability to evade adjacent tissue and eventual death of the affected person if tumor progresses beyond a critical point. Cancer that starts in the mouth is called oral cancer. It may include lips, inside lining of cheeks, gums, the floor of the mouth, tongue, palate. Oral cancer is one of the deadliest cancers in the world.
Risk factors for developing oral cancer are as follows:
- Chemical irritants like alcohol, tobacco, mouthwashes with high alcohol content
- Physical irritants like denture use, prolonged denture irritation, irregular teeth or restoration, chronic cheek biting habit
- Nutritional factors like deficiency of vitamin A, carotenoid supplement
- Prolonged sun exposure
- Hormonal effects
- Increased cellular aging
- Viruses like HSV1, HSV2, HPV
Signs and symptoms of oral cancer are as follows:
- A sore in the mouth that does not heal
- Persistent mouth pain
- A lump or thickening on the cheek
- A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, tonsils, or lining of the mouth
- Difficulty in swallowing or chewing
- Difficulty in moving the jaw or tongue
- Numbness of tongue
- Jaw swelling that makes denture hurt or fit poorly
- Loosening of teeth
- Pain in the teeth or jaw
- Voice change
- Lump in neck
- Significant weight loss
- Persistent bad breath
Oral cancer screening is the examination performed by dentist or doctor to look for signs and symptoms of cancer or precancerous conditions in the patient’s mouth. The objective of oral cancer screening is to detect oral cancer at an early stage.
What to look for while performing oral cancer screening?
- Abnormal lump
- Pain in ear or mouth
- Persistent sore
- Chronic hoarseness
- Non-tender lump in throat
Here is a brief description of steps to a thorough oral cancer screening:
- Tongue check: The doctor checks the tongue thoroughly examining for white patches or red patches. For non-smokers, this is usually the site for oral cancer.
- Lip and cheek roll: The inner areas of lip and cheeks are checked. It is ensured that no abnormal red or white patches are present.
- Mouth probe: The inner part of the mouth is checked from top to bottom for abnormal lumps, sores or discolored patches.
- Palate tickle: The roof of the mouth or palate is checked thoroughly for lumps or patches.
- Neck caress: The lymph nodes are examined for any signs of infections or enlargement.
- Tonsil check: With a dental mirror or an oral cancer screening light, the dentist checks the throat and tonsils for unusual redness or lumps or enlargement.
- Oral cytology: It is one of the most common methods to diagnose oral cancer. The cells that shed from the body is taken as a sample.
- Brush biopsy: It is a non-invasive method of collecting sample cells using a stiff brush.
- Vital staining: Stains like toluidine blue, methylene blue, Lugol's iodine are applied on the oral tissues. They stain the cancer cells.