Help Your Patients Understand the Importance of Oral Cancer Screenings
Per The Oral Cancer Foundation, oropharyngeal cancers are the largest group of cancers that fall into the head and neck cancer category. Common names for it include mouth cancer, tonsil cancer, tongue cancer, oral cancer, gum cancer, and throat cancer. In 2020, more than 50,000 people will be diagnosed with oral cancer in the US. Globally, more than 369,000 cases were diagnosed in 2012. It is more common than you may think!
Some professionals may consider oral cancers to be rare. However, in the US, 145 individuals are diagnosed every day. To put it another way, one person dies per hour, per day, of these diseases.
Many types of oral cancers can be successfully treated if caught early, which makes oral cancer screenings essential to every patient’s health. Treatments have very high success rates, averaging as high as 90% when caught early. With this article, we’ll delve into the risk factors of oral cancers, their types, and symptoms and explain how physicians and dental professionals can help patients understand the importance of these screenings.
Types of Oral Cancers
As a medical professional, you already know that the human mouth is composed of many different kinds of cells. Per the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), the type of cancer diagnosed depends on these originating cells.
- According to MSKCC, most mouth cancers, as many as 90%, are squamous cell carcinomas. Squamous cells can look like fish scales. They are flat, thin cells that form on the skin, on the lining of hollow organs, or on the lining of digestive and respiratory tracts.
- Far less common are oral verrucous carcinomas. This is a rare subtype of squamous cell carcinoma.
- Some mouth and throat cancers originate as melanoma. Melanoma of the neck, head, or face can occur anywhere on the skin or inside the nasal cavity or oral cavity. They arise in the pigment-producing cells, which give skin it’s color.
The American Dental Association (ADA) says oral cancers are often classified into two categories: “those occurring in the oral cavity (lips, the inside of your lips and cheeks, teeth, gums, the front two-thirds of your tongue and the floor and roof of your mouth) and those occurring in the oropharynx (middle region of the throat, including the tonsils and base of the tongue).”
Common Risk Factors of Oral Cancers
The two most common pathways to oral cancer are tobacco use and Human Papillomavirus (HPV). However, your patients may be at a higher risk if they:
- Are age 40 or older
- Drink heavily
- Don’t eat well
- Experience excessive sun exposure, work outdoors, or “go tanning”
- Are male (males are far more prone to mouth cancer, nearly twice as likely to suffer from oral cancer than females)
- Had oral cancer before
We should note here that every individual is unique, and sometimes oral cancer can seem to appear out of nowhere. Just because your patient is a smoking male over forty who worked all his life outdoors does not guarantee he’ll get cancer. Though his risk is undoubtedly higher, which makes cancer screening even more critical for him.
Interestingly, there is an increasing number of people who are diagnosed with oral cancer who have no risk factors at all! The traditionally recognized risk factors may be soon be obsolete. Therefore, even if your patient doesn’t have any of the factors listed, oral cancer screenings are still essential in maintaining your patient’s overall health.
Symptoms of Oral Cancers
Close inspection of your patient’s mouth may reveal pre-cancerous symptoms. Indeed, oral cancers that begin on the floor of the mouth may appear like a horseshoe-shaped sore under the patient’s tongue. An ulcer on the roof of the mouth may be the first symptom of a palette cancer. Gum cancers are often initially misdiagnosed as gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums caused by bacteria.
Other symptoms include:
- Red or white sores anywhere in the mouth – this is the most common symptom of an oral cancer
- Numbness or pain anywhere in the mouth – pain is a widespread symptom
- Difficulties chewing, speaking or swallowing
- Lumps in the mouth or thickening in the tongue or lips
- Persistent bad breath
- Voice changes
- Unintentional, or dramatic weight loss
- Sore throat
The Importance of Oral Cancer Screenings
As we’ve mentioned, treatment rates for many types of oral cancers are largely successful, as high as ninety percent. Overall, the five-year survival rate of oral cancers as a whole is more than 60%.
About Oral Cancer Screening Procedures – Getting Patients to Comply, Happily
The first step towards a happy, healthy patient is a face to face talk about their risks for oral cancer. A simple explanation of your concern is often enough.
Explain to your patients that oral cancer screenings begin with a visual inspection of the mouth and a feeling around the neck and glands for lumps, bumps, and anomalies. Your patients may be more willing to participate once they realize these procedures don’t require any special preparation and don’t take very long to complete. (No one looks forward to drinking nasty preparatory drinks, or needing a driver to bring them home from other types of cancer screenings).
As a non-invasive, simple procedure, most patients would be happy to have this quick screening completed. Indeed, an initial screening could be completed in just a few moments with the right equipment from obp.
We’d like you to consider these simple ways to encourage regular screenings:
- All dental professionals should include an oral cancer screening in any regular checkup or dental cleaning service.
- Off-site clinics could include screenings with any service they offer.
- Yearly physicals for employment eligibility should include an oral cancer screening.
According to The Mayo Clinic, some medical professionals or dentists use additional tests to screen for oral cancers. These include oral cancer screening dyes and oral cancer screening lights. The purpose of the dye method is to make atypical cells in a patient’s mouth soak up the stain and become more visible. Oral cancer screening light tools shine a special light into the mouth, which makes unhealthy cells appear white, while the healthy tissues appear dark.
At obp, our mission is to reinvent the everyday tools providers rely upon by integrating LED lighting technology into sterile, single-use devices for medical professionals. Our ONETRAC OMS single-use, cordless, lighted oral retractor offers providers an instant solution for oral & maxillofacial procedures requiring access, illumination, and exposure of a surgical pocket or oral cavity. Further, access and lighting of your patient’s oral and maxillofacial region can be met within seconds, requiring no additional parts, assembly, or power sources.
Contact us today to learn more about ONETRAC OMS oral retractors, and other single-use, sterile, self-lighting medical equipment. We’d love to explain how our products can make oral screening procedures better for your patients.