Oral cancer is a disease resulting from abnormal cell growth in the mouth, lips, tongue or throat. In 2003, an estimated 3,100 new cases of oral cancers were identified in Canada, and about 1,090 deaths occurred as a result of the disease. People over the age of 45 are most at risk. The good news is that oral cancer can be treated successfully if caught early enough. We have the expert skill and training to detect early signs of the disease and can help you to understand your risks. In our office, a visual oral cancer screening is standard with every new patient or recall examination. We also offer our patients an advanced oral cancer screening, using the VELscope®. VELscope shines a safe blue light onto your mouth tissues, and helps us evaluate you for abnormal areas, which are often undetectable under white light. Typically, healthy tissue viewed through the VELscope appears as a bright apple green, while suspicious regions appear dark. When used in combination with white light examination, VELscope is the new standard of care for early detection in oral mucosal screening.
Signs and symptoms
- White or dark red patches in your mouth, or on your lips or tongue.
- Lumps or changes in the texture or colour of the mouth tissues.
- Bleeding or numbness in the mouth; sores or patches that do not heal.
- Difficulty swallowing; changes in taste or tongue sensation.
- Dark areas when viewed through the VELscope
The actual cause of oral cancer is not known but risk factors include:
- Consumption of tobacco products (cigarettes, chewing tobacco, cigars, etc).
- Heavy alcohol consumption (It is especially dangerous to combine smoking and alcohol.)
- Prolonged, repeated exposure of the lips to the sun.
- Poor diet; genetics and gender (more men develop the disease than women.)
- A history of leukoplakia – a thick, whitish-colour patch inside the mouth.
Treatment depends on the severity and location of the disease, as well as the age and health of the patient. If oral cancer is suspected, we may do a small surgical biopsy or brush cytology of the area.
Oral brush cytology is a simple procedure done right in our office. It results in very little or no pain or bleeding, and requires no anesthetic. Firm pressure with a circular brush is applied to the suspicious area. The brush is then firmly rotated five to ten times. The benefits of brush cytology are the possible avoidance of surgical biopsy, and the ease of sampling, which can be performed during a routine dental examination. Because of its ease of use, and the elimination of any surgical procedure, this method allows tissue samples to be taken early in areas that in the past, the doctor may have decided to just watch for while. With oral cancer, an earlier determination is always important, for both your piece of mind, and because cancers caught earlier have a higher success rate of being cured.
We may also refer you to an oral surgeon or the B.C. Oral Cancer Agency, where:
- A biopsy (surgical removal and microscopic examination) of the suspicious area may be (re)-taken.
- Imaging tests such as X-rays, ultra sounds, CT scans or MRIs may be taken.
- Chemotherapy, radiation therapy or surgery may be necessary to remove tumor(s).
To help prevent oral cancer:
- Visit us for check-ups and ask about oral cancer screenings.
- Stop using tobacco products – ask about tools to help you quit.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- Limit sun exposure and use U/V protective lip balms.
- Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.
- Check your mouth regularly for signs or symptoms and report any changes in your mouth to your dentist right away.