Oral Cancer Screening

Importance of Early Detection

Early detection is the key to reducing the devastating impact of oral cancer on victims and their families. Annual oral cancer screening of patients at increased risk for oral cancer, patients age 18 and older, and tobacco users of any age, is the only way to achieve the early detection of oral cancer necessary to reduce the death rate of oral cancer - a death rate that has remained unchanged for more than 40 years.

Doesn't my dentist already do a cancer screening?

Yes, your dentist does check your neck and oral tissues for lumps, red or white patches or recurring sore areas. But typically, these techniques catch cancer at very advanced stages and mortality drops dramatically. Early detection is key to a successful treatment.

Oral Cancer Information

• CNN News article: Oral Cancer's Toll Cruel

Oral Cancer: A Fact Sheet

What Is The Public Health Issue?

An estimated 28,000 new cases of oral cancer and 7,200 deaths from these cancers occurred in the United States in 2004. The age-adjusted incidence was more than twice as high among men than among women, as was the mortality rate. More than 40% of persons diagnosed with oral cancer die within five years of diagnosis.

More than 90% of oral cancers can be attributed to tobacco use, alcohol use, and both tobacco and alcohol use. Sun exposure can also be a risk factor for oral cancer. Low consumption of fruit and some types of human papilloma virus infections have also been implicated.

How Is Oral Cancer Diagnosed?

An examination for oral cancer may be done during a physical examination by your dentist or physician. An oral cancer exam is painless and quick. Your health care provider will inspect your face, neck, lips and mouth to look for any signs of cancer. With both hands, he or she will feel the area under your jaw and the side of your neck, checking for lumps that may suggest cancer. Next, your provider will have you stick out your tongue so that it can be checked for swelling or abnormal color or texture. In addition, he or she will look at the roof and floor of your mouth, as well as the back of your throat. He or she will then look at and feel the insides of your lips and cheeks to check for possible signs of cancer, such as red and/or white patches.

Using gauze, he or she will then gently pull your tongue to one side, then the other, to check the base of your tongue. The underside of your tongue will also be checked. Finally, your provider will put one finger on the floor of your mouth and, with the other hand under your chin, gently press down to check for lumps or sensitivity.

Quickfacts: Oral Cancer in the U.S.:
  • Persons aged 45 and older account for 90% of oral cancer cases
  • More than 90% of oral cancers can be attributed to tobacco or alcohol use
  • Men are twice as likely as women to contract and die from oral cancer
Related U.S. Healthy People Year 2010 Objectives:
  • Objective 21-6: Increase the proportion of oral and pharyngeal cancers detected at the earliest stage from 35% to 50%.
    • Only 2% are detected before they become invasive.
  • Objective 21-7: Increase the proportion of adults over 40 years old who, in the past 12 months, report having had an examination to detect oral and pharyngeal cancer.
    • In the U.S., about 13% of adults aged 40 and over had an exam for oral cancer in the last 12 months.

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