Why Screen for Oral Cancer?


This is a word you never want to hear. I am sure we all know at least one person who has had cancer of one form or another but that does not make us any less afraid to hear the word when we go in for an appointment.

Being a female I became accustomed to cancer screenings early. I can still remember the appointment when my doctor told me that I would be getting my first Pap smear because I was 18 and that is when they start to do them on women. I just did a little research before I started this blog and the real recommendation from the American Cancer Society is to start them two years after your first sexual experience or no later than twenty-one years of age. That puts the women up front when it comes to cancer screenings. Men don’t have to get prostate exams until around 50 so having a cancer screening recommended may feel a bit foreign to the younger crown.

There are a variety of screening methods for cancers of different areas of the body. The most common ones being PAP smears for cervical cancer, PSA for prostate cancer, colonoscopy for colorectal cancer and mammograms for breast cancer.

At your yearly physical you may be checked for other cancers if risk factors are present. Your doctor generally does not screen for oral cancer. Your dental office is usually where it is done. A patient that suspects cancer and seeks out medical treatment is usually already at an advanced stage of disease. With screening at your dental office things can be detected earlier so treatment can be started earlier.

You may not be aware that you have had any type of oral cancer screening done at the dentist. Have you ever noticed that the dentist tells you to move your tongue around when he checks you at your exam? The dentist is looking for visual signs of any abnormalities that could be cancerous. He or she will also feel around for any abnormalities. It often happens so quickly during the appointment that you don’t even know what is going on. Unfortunately early cancerous lesions are not always visible to the naked eye or felt during this exam. Fortunately there have been developments in screening technology to aid in early detection of oral cancers.

Additional Oral Screening Technologies

  • Vizilite Plus with T-Blue- for early detection; light based technology with use of toluidine blue
  • VELscope- for early detection; light based technology
  • Orascopic DK- for early detection; light based technology
  • Microlux DL- for early detection; light based technology
  • Identafi™ 3000 Ultra by TRIMIRA™ LLC; light based technology
  • Toluidine Blue (tolonium chloride)- diagnostic; this is the T-Blue in Vizilite Plus
  • OralCDx- Diagnostic, a brush biopsy test used after an abnormality is found; cytologic testing technology

These screening technologies use either light based technology, cytological testing (checking the cells themselves for abnormalities) or use of Toluidine blue as a marker for abnormal cells. A general screening from your dentist or hygienist uses the naked eye and touch. In general it is best to have screening if you fall into one of the high risk categories or have a sore that has not healed in two weeks. Always mention areas of concern to your dentist, hygienist or doctor. You should never leave a dental or medical appointment with a concern that you have not voiced.

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