The next time you visit your dentist, ask about your oral cancer screening. Most people receive one during their regular dental checkup but do not realize it.
The dentist checks about 10 places inside and around the mouth, looking for lumps or irregular tissue changes.
Every year, 40,000 Americans are found to have oral cancer, which accounts for about 9,000 deaths each year, or 3% of all cancer-caused deaths.
Oral cancer has the lowest survival rate, however, because it is typically painless in its early stages and goes unnoticed by the sufferer until it spreads, leading to chronic pain and sometimes loss of function before it is diagnosed. In its later stages, it can lead to surgery and facial and oral disfigurement. Surgery can include removal of a portion of the tongue and jaw.
People can conduct self-exams, says Dr. Fred Magaziner, a spokesman for the Academy of General Dentistry. During a self-exam, look for "the signs of oral cancer, including any sore that persists longer than two weeks, a swelling or growth, a lump or sore spot anywhere in or around the mouth or neck, white or red patches in the mouth or on the lips, repeated bleeding from the mouth or throat, and difficulty swallowing or persistent hoarseness."
Source: Academy of General Dentistry