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Robert P. Blanchard, DDS
Cosmetic & Restorative Dentistry
"Creating Beautiful Smiles"
Call: 281-488-8973

Oral Cancer Exam

According to research conducted by the American Cancer society, more than 30,000 cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each year.  More than 7,000 of these cases result in the death of the patient.  The good news is that oral cancer can easily be diagnosed with an annual oral cancer exam, and effectively treated when caught in its earliest stages.

Oral cancer is a pathologic process which begins with an asymptomatic stage during which the usual cancer signs may not be readily noticeable.  This makes the oral cancer examinations performed by the dentist critically important.  Oral cancers can be of varied histologic types such as teratoma, adenocarcinoma and melanoma.  The most common type of oral cancer is the malignant squamous cell carcinoma.  This oral cancer type usually originates in lip and mouth tissues.

There are many different places in the oral cavity and maxillofacial region in which oral cancers commonly occur, including:

  • Lips
  • Mouth
  • Tongue
  • Salivary Glands
  • Oropharyngeal Region (throat)
  • Gums
  • Face

About Oral Cancer

Most people are surprised to learn that one American dies every hour from oral cancer; a death rate that has remained virtually unchanged for more than 40 years. In fact, recent statistics published by the American Cancer Society indicate that while the incidence and death rates for cancers overall has decreased, the incidence of oral cancer has increased by 5.5% and the death rate has increased by 1.5%

Oral cancer is far too often discovered in late stage development, the primary reason for the consistently high death rate. Oral cancer treatment often results in disfiguring effects on patients, and can seriously compromise their quality of life. Early detection and diagnosis can make a tremendous difference in life expectancy; oral cancer is 90% curable when found in its early stages. Unfortunately, 70% of oral cancers are diagnosed in the late stages, III and IV, leading to a five-year survival rate of 57%.

The Deadly Statistics

  • Every hour of every day, one American dies of oral cancer.
  • The mortality rate associated with oral cancer has not improved significantly in the last 40 years.
  • The death rate in the United States for oral cancer is higher than that of cervical cancer, Hodgkin's disease, cancer of the brain, liver, testes, kidney, or ovary.
  • More than 30,000 Americans will receive an oral cancer diagnosis this year. In five years, only 57% will still be alive.
  • 27% of oral cancer victims do not use tobacco or alcohol and have no other lifestyle risk factors.

Reasons for oral cancer examinations

When oral cancer is diagnosed in its earliest stages, treatment is generally very effective.  Any noticeable abnormalities in the tongue, gums, mouth or surrounding area should be evaluated by a health professional as quickly as possible.  During the oral cancer exam, the dentist and dental hygienist will be scrutinizing the maxillofacial and oral regions carefully for signs of pathologic changes.

The following signs will be investigated during a routine oral cancer exam:

  • Red patches and sores – Red patches on the floor of the mouth, the front and sides of the tongue, white or pink patches which fail to heal and slow healing sores that bleed easily can be indicative of pathologic (cancerous) changes.

  • Leukoplakia – This is a hardened white or gray, slightly raised lesion that can appear anywhere inside the mouth. Leukoplakia can be cancerous, or may become cancerous if treatment is not sought.

  • Lumps – Soreness, lumps or the general thickening of tissue anywhere in the throat or mouth can signal pathological problems.

Oral cancer exams, diagnosis and treatment

The oral cancer examination is a completely painless process.  During the visual part of the examination, the dentist will look for abnormality and feel the face, glands and neck for unusual bumps.  Lasers which can highlight pathologic changes are also a wonderful tool for oral cancer checks.  The laser can “look” below the surface for abnormal signs and lesions which would be invisible to the naked eye.

If abnormalities, lesions, leukoplakia or lumps are apparent, the dentist will implement a diagnostic impression and treatment plan.  In the event that the initial treatment plan is ineffective, a biopsy of the area will be performed.  The biopsy includes a clinical evaluation which will identify the precise stage and grade of the oral lesion.

Oral cancer is deemed to be present when the basement membrane of the epithelium has been broken.  Malignant types of cancer can readily spread to other places in the oral and maxillofacial regions, posing additional secondary threats.  Treatment methods vary according to the precise diagnosis, but may include excision, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

During bi-annual check-ups, the dentist and hygienist will thoroughly look for changes and lesions in the mouth.

ViziLite Plus as part of a comprehensive oral screening

Oral cancer is one of the most curable diseases when it's caught early. That's why the ViziLite Plus exam has been developed. ViziLite Plus uses technology that has proven successful in identifying soft tissue abnormalities in other areas of the body. A ViziLite Plus exam is particularly important if you are at increased risk for developing oral cancer.

For more information about ViziLite Plus and the ViziLite Plus examination, click here to view an informative ViziLite Plus video segment. (A high speed internet connection and Windows Media Player 10 is recommended to view the video. Download Windows Media Player 10)

The ViziLite Plus exam can help your dentist or hygienist identify abnormal tissue, that might develop into oral cancer.

An annual ViziLite Plus exam, in combination with a regular visual examination, provides a comprehensive oral screening procedure for patients at increased risk for oral cancer. The ViziLite Plus exam is painless and fast, and could help save your life.

How ViziLite Plus Works

As with most serious diseases, early detection is the key to successful outcomes. Unfortunately, the problem with oral cancer is that approximately 70% of the time it is not visible to the dental professional until it has reached an advanced stage. ViziLite Plus technology assists your dental professional in seeing abnormal tissue in the mouth, before it is plainly obvious.

As ViziLite Plus passes over oral tissue that has been treated with the rinse solution, normal healthy tissue will absorb the light and appear dark, abnormal tissue will appear white. The purpose of using ViziLite Plus is to identify tissue changes at their earliest stage; once abnormal tissue has been identified it is up to your dental professional to determine what the appropriate next steps are.


   


Benefits and Expectations

  • When oral cancer is found at the earliest stage, treatment is quicker, simpler, less involved, and more then 90% successful! When oral cancer is diagnosed in late stage, treatment is expensive, disfiguring and has a poor survival rate.
  • ViziLite Plus is a technology used by your dental professional to assist in the early detection of abnormal tissue in your mouth.
  • ViziLite Plus helps your dental professional see abnormal tissue that is not visible during a regular exam.
  • At the conclusion of a ViziLite Plus exam, following a standard visual exam, you can be confident you have received the most comprehensive oral cancer screening available.