Oral cancer most commonly develops on the tongue, tonsils, gums and mouth floor, but can also be found on the lips, esophagus, larynx and salivary glands. Like many cancers, oral cancer survival rates are higher when the disease is diagnosed and treated sooner.
If you suspect you have oral cancer, how will your dentist, doctor or oral surgeon arrive at a firm diagnosis?
Look for These Signs
An oral cancer diagnosis starts with you. Oral surgeons and dentists recommend checking the inside of your mouth at least once a month to look for suspicious signs. If you notice any of the following symptoms, it’s important you call your doctor right away.
- Persistent sores, lumps or thick patches of skin anywhere in your mouth
- Red or white patches in your mouth
- Numbness or pain anywhere in the mouth
- Difficulty moving your jaw or tongue
- Persistent sore throat
If these symptoms don’t disappear after two weeks, schedule a dentist or doctor visit. If they suspect cancer, you’ll likely be referred to a specialist, such as an oral surgeon, for further testing.
Complete Physical Exam
First, you will undergo a complete physical exam. The physician will feel the inside of your mouth and visually examine the area in question. They will also ask you a range of questions about your medical history, such as if there is a history of the disease in your family. They will document any abnormal areas or bumps they discover and schedule further tests.
Taking a Biopsy
In a biopsy, the doctor removes a tissue sample and sends it to a lab for examination and testing. The type of biopsy will depend on the location and size of the suspicious area.
Your doctor may start with an exfoliative cytology, a preliminary biopsy that involves scraping cells from the area and examining them for abnormalities. If cancer is present, an incisional biopsy may be done, which involves removing a larger tissue sample.
The cell samples collected are examined by a pathologist who will then determine whether oral cancer is present, and what type of cancer it is.
If oral cancer is found, the patient will likely undergo imaging tests to determine if it has spread to other areas of the body. A chest X-ray will look for cancer is in the lunges. A computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be used to check for cancer in other areas of the body, such as the neck.
Northeast Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery provides comprehensive oral pathology screenings and accurate diagnoses. Trust our team for caring guidance and helpful information during your oral cancer screening process.