Oral Cancer Screening
Helping find any signs of potential mouth cancer early.
Oral cancer refers to any of the possible cancers that can occur in the mouth, such as on the lips, gums, and tongue. There were approximately 700 new cases of oral cancer diagnosed in Australia in 2021, so while this is not a highly common illness, it is important to check for the early warning signs so that it can be addressed as soon as possible when it does occur.
That’s why it’s important to be seen by a professional who knows what to look for, and that’s why our dentists routinely perform visual and tactile inspections during our routine dental check-ups to look for potential signs of oral cancer.
What is oral cancer?
Oral cancer, also known as mouth cancer, can be any number of cancers. These can affect your:
- Roof or floor of the mouth
When detected early enough, the survival rate for oral cancers is as high as 90%, which is why it’s so important to not just keep an eye out for any potential signs yourself but to be seen by a professional who knows what to look for.
What are the common symptoms of oral cancer?
Mouth cancer can be hard to spot in the early stages, but becomes more obvious with noticeable symptoms as it spreads. These are some of the common symptoms of oral cancer:
- Sores around your lips or mouth that won’t heal
- Lumps inside your mouth
- General pain somewhere in your mouth
- Pain when swallowing
- Red or white patches inside your mouth
- Loose teeth
Just because you have some of these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean you have mouth cancer, as they can be caused by several reasons. However, if your dentist spots any of these symptoms and cannot be sure of their cause (such as loose teeth due to periodontitis), they may refer you to a specialist to have a biopsy and rule out cancer as a cause.
During your dental appointment, your dentist will be on the lookout for any of the visual symptoms and warning signs of mouth cancer.
How does a screening work?
If you have been to a dental check-up recently, it’s more than likely that you’ve already been having basic oral cancer screens.
When you visit your dentist, they will visually inspect your mouth for any signs of oral cancer, such as sores, uneven tonsils, and white or red spots. They may also do a tactile inspection, including feeling your neck to assess for any unusual lumps.
If your dentist notices anything that looks amiss, they may send you for a biopsy. In this case, you will see a specialist who will take a sample of the affected area (such as a sore) to test for cancer.
Dentist examining a patients mouth
Why is it important to screen for mouth cancer?
Early detection of mouth cancer is vital. Here’s why it’s important to regularly screen for oral cancer.
- Early detection offers the best odds for survival: Early detection of oral cancers gives the patient good odds for survival, at up to 90% when the issue is detected and treated straight away.
- Oral cancers can happen to anyone: Oral cancers can happen to anyone, and more young people are being diagnosed as the prevalence of HPV has meant that a wider portion of the age group is at risk.
- Peace of mind: With a professional checking your mouth at regular intervals for signs of oral cancer, you can have the peace of mind of doing what you can to avoid late detection.
Detect mouth cancer early with an oral cancer screening
Our dental practitioners perform oral cancer checks at each examination.
The check aims to find any signs of cancer in your mouth early, so necessary medical treatment can begin as soon as possible. During each examination, your dentist will look for any changes in your soft tissues such as the tongue, floor of mouth, lips, and cheeks.
If you have any unusual lumps or lesions in your mouth that have been there for more than two weeks or have had difficulty swallowing during this time, tell your dentist so they can take a closer look.
Make sure you keep your regular dental check-ups so that you frequently have a professional look for any potential warning signs.
Get in touch with our friendly team today to schedule an appointment.
Frequently asked questions
Mouth cancer is often first detected by dentists, who are on the lookout for any unusual signs in the mouth during your routine dental check-ups. This can be red or white patches in the mouth, uneven tonsils, loose teeth, or sores that won’t heal. You may even be able to spot some of these signs for yourself if you know what to look for, especially if something in your mouth is causing you pain.
Whether you or your dentist first notice the signs, they will refer you to a specialist to have a biopsy of the tissue taken. This will either rule out cancer or confirm the presence of cancerous cells so you can begin treatment immediately.
When discovered and treated early, the prognosis for mouth cancer is positive. The five-year survival rate for oral cancers that are caught and treated early varies from about 60% to 90%, depending on the type of cancer.
As the cancer spreads, the survival rate begins to drop, so the sooner it is discovered and treated, the better.
It depends on the type of cancer, however as most oral cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, they do tend to spread quickly. It will begin by spreading to nearby structures, such as the rest of the mouth and head, before spreading to the rest of the body. A prognosis for a five-year survival rate is usually given based on how far the cancer has spread.