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The Oral Cancer Foundation estimates that about 53,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer in 2019. It is estimated that this number is so large because there is currently no national screening policy or changes in risk factors. At Oak Grove Dental Center, we believe in providing our patients with high quality dental care. This means that we perform oral cancer screenings at every dental checkup. Early detection is the key to positive treatment outcomes. By screening for oral cancer at every six month checkup, we aim to identify and treat any possible anomalies early on before it develops into a larger problem.

Did You Know?

The majority of oral cancer cases are not diagnosed until after the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. However, regular dental checkups and oral cancer screenings can help identify oral cancer before it spreads to the lymph nodes, resulting in better treatment outcomes.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is oral cancer?

Cancer is an uncontrollable growth of cells in a specific area that causes damage to the surrounding areas. Oral cancer is a broad name for a variety of cancers that affect the oral and oropharyngeal (head and neck) region. Oral cancers can include cancers of the mouth, lips, tongue, cheeks, hard and soft palate, sinuses, pharynx (throat), and tonsils.

Oral cancer can occur in four different stages:

    • Stage 1: Cancer has not spread to lymph nodes and the tumor is 2 cm or smaller
    • Stage 2: Cancer has not spread to lymph nodes and the tumor is between 2-4 cm
    • Stage 3: Either cancer has not spread to lymph nodes despite the tumor being larger than 4 cm OR the tumor is any size and the cancer has spread to at least one lymph node, but not the rest of the body
    • Stage 4: Cancer has spread to the surrounding tissues, lymph nodes, or other parts of the body

Am I at risk for developing oral cancer?

The American Cancer Society has noted that men, especially those over the age of 50, are at the highest risk for developing oral cancer. In addition, smoking increases the odds of developing oral cancer by six times, smokeless tobacco by fifty times, and excessive alcohol consumption by six times. However, about 25% of all oral cancer cases are diagnosed in individuals who do not smoke nor use alcohol excessively. A family history of cancer, excessive sun exposure, and exposure to certain strains of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) can also increase the risk of developing oral cancer.

According to The Oral Cancer Foundation, front of the mouth oral cancers are generally attributed to tobacco use or heavy alcohol consumption, with only a tiny amount being attributed to genetic predisposition. On the other hand, back of the mouth cancers are more generally attributed to the exposure of the HPV16 virus.

What are the symptoms of oral cancer?

Possible symptoms of oral cancer can include:

    • Tissue inconsistencies (swelling, thickening, lumps, bumps, rough spots, crusts, eroded areas) on the lips, gums, or areas inside the mouth
    • Unexplained bleeding in the mouth
    • Persistent sores that bleed easily and do not heal within 2 weeks (found on face, neck, mouth)
    • Ear pain
    • Numbness/loss of sensation in the face, neck, or mouth
    • Pain in the face, neck, or mouth
    • Soreness or feeling that something is stuck in the back of the throat
    • Dramatic weight loss
    • Change in the bite or alignment
    • Hoarseness, chronic sore throat, or voice changes
    • Trouble swallowing, chewing, speaking, or moving jaw or tongue

If you are exhibiting any of these symptoms, we recommend that you schedule a consultation with Dr. Kevin H. Speer today.

What can I expect when having an oral cancer screening at Oak Grove Dental Center?

When having an oral cancer screening at Oak Grove Dental Center, you can expect that Dr. Speer will discuss any changes in your medical history, medications, and if you are having any unusual symptoms. If you have dentures or any type of removable appliance, this will then be removed. He will then carefully examine your lips, inner cheek lining, gums, tongue, both the floor and roof of your mouth, tonsils, jaw, and neck. He will check for tissue abnormalities, lumps, swelling, bleeding, or anything else that looks suspicious.

Sometimes, a special light or blue dye may also be used to identify abnormal tissue. Under light, abnormal tissue will look white compared to dark, healthy tissue. Blue dye can also gather within abnormal cells, making them appear blue. In some cases, you may be referred for further testing or asked to come back in a week or two for a follow up exam.

One such test is a biopsy, where a sample of cells is removed and sent to a lab for testing. There are two different types of biopsies that may be performed: brush or tissue. A brush biopsy obtains cells painlessly and brushes them onto a slide. A tissue biopsy is slightly more invasive and involves a piece of tissue being removed and sent to a lab.

How is oral cancer treated?

Oral cancer is treated in the same way as most other cancers. Radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy is often used to destroy cancer cells or to shrink a cancerous growth. Surgical excision of the cancerous tissue is also generally recommended at some point.

Good nutrition and good oral hygiene are also important parts of oral cancer treatment. You will need to be sure to get enough nutrients while planning meals that can easily be consumed with a sore mouth. Additionally, keeping your mouth as clean as possible is another important part of preventing further infection.

What is the outlook for people with oral cancer?

In most cases, the one year survival rate is about 81% no matter what stage. This number drops to approximately 56% at five years and 41% at ten years. As with most cancers, the earlier the stage at diagnosis, the better the outcome. In fact the National Cancer Institute estimates that those with stage 1 and stage 2 oral cancers generally have a 70-90% five year survival rate.

At Oak Grove Dental Center, we believe that providing high quality dentistry is only part of creating a successful relationship with our patients. To experience some of the best dental care in Milwaukie, schedule a consultation with Dr. Kevin H. Speer today!