You may not associate cancer screening with your regular dental checkups, but your dentist does. Dentists check for oral cancer by inspecting your tongue, roof and floor of the mouth, and by feeling the lymph nodes on the neck.
Oral cancer can start as a tiny, white or red spot or a sore anywhere in the mouth. People who smoke and drink a lot of alcohol are at the greatest risk for oral cancer. But more than 25 percent of oral cancers occur in people with no known risk factors.
The American Cancer Society estimates that this year there will be 28,900 new oral cancer cases in the United States and 7,400 deaths caused by oral cancer.
Early detection, diagnosis and treatment of oral cancer is critical to long-term survival.
Current and future oral cancer screening technologies for dentists include:
- Brush biopsy. A small brush is used to take a tissue sample. It's sent for analysis to determine the presence of pre-cancerous or cancerous cells. This method is approved for use in the United States.
- Toluidine blue. The patient rinses with various solutions that leave a blue stain on pre-cancerous or cancerous cells. A positive test indicates the need for follow-up investigation. Toluidine blue is approved for use in various countries. Approval in the United States is pending.
- Chemiluminescence. A liquid similar to diluted vinegar is applied to the area of the mouth to be screened. Under a special kind of light, the liquid causes pre-cancerous or cancerous cells to glow. This method is approved for use in the United States but not yet widely available.
Learn more about oral cancer at the Oral Cancer Foundation.