How to Self Screen for Oral Cancer?
1 in 60 men, and 1 in 140 women in Canada is likely to get a form of oral cancer in their lifetime. (American Cancer Society) Most oral cancers are treated more effectively when discovered early. Your dentist (Dr. Stephen Mathews) will look for signs of developing oral cancer every checkup. However, you may be afraid of developing oral cancer during the time your away from your dentist. Here are a few tips on how to self screen for oral cancer between dental appointments.
Where to Look?
Although oral cancer is common in soft tissue and specific to certain areas of your mouth, it’s important to inspect all areas of the mouth. Set yourself up with a bright light source in front of your mirror.
Start with your lips and check their whole surface inside and out. Next, stick out your tongue and look closely at the top and sides, followed by a close look at the bottom and underside or floor of your mouth. Third, gently manipulate and stretch your cheeks allowing light to reveal their inner surface, take your time to look at all of it, bit by bit. Finally audit your hard and soft pallet. The soft pallet may be the most difficult to see as it makes up the last part of the mouth before your throat.
What to Look For?
What does oral cancer look like? The expression “you’ll know it when you see it” may apply because most oral cancers look out of place or very abnormal, or irregular. Usually, their shape is spotty or blotchy apposed to symmetrical or coordinated. The color of oral cancer can differ. Some are white and bloody others are like mixed colors of freckled browns and black. Like their shape, many oral cancers have an uneven texture as well. Blisters and sores often form spheres or are circular in shape, cancers are rarely like this, it will look more chaotic if its cancer cells.
Although cancer cells form gradually over time (depending on how aggressive it is), most people will feel it before they see it. The mouth is full of nerves and can be very sensitive. How do you feel for cancer?
Feeling for Oral Cancer
Feeling around the inside of your mouth is a good job for your amazing tongue. Every day your tongue inspects your mouth subconsciously. Using muscle memory from the nervous system you probably already know of every tiny bump and texture that exists inside your mouth. Don’t second guess the common things you know already. Salivary glands under the tongue, the slight difference in texture from a filling, or the sensitive area on your cheek where you accidently bit down on, all normal.
Oral cancers feel different and foreign, they are rough, rubbery, and new. Some are sensitive and painful where others have little sensitivity or feeling. Sometimes when we bite down on our cheek or tongue a small pearl or marble will form while it heals. Some cancer patients will describe it like that only without the pearl or marble. Just a sensitive area with fibrous irregular skin.
Common Areas for Oral Cancer
Although it is important to look at all surfaces of the mouth when self screening for oral cancer, there are some specific parts of the mouth that are more vulnerable to cancer. For this reason, spend a little extra time examining the following areas.
- Sides and bottom of the tongue
- Mouth floor, under the tongue
These two areas are cancer hot spots; however, the hard and soft pallet has statistically been an area to worry about and could be called a warm area comparatively.
Screen Monthly, for Oral Cancer
Since some time can pass between dentist visits, self screening for oral cancer can be an important monthly exercise. If you find an irregular area that you suspect may be cancer, don’t panic. Most strange discoveries will not be malignant forms of cancer. However, getting them checked by a dentist is a good idea, just in case. As we discussed at the outset of this blog, most often time makes a big difference regarding the ability to treat cancer.
Talk to Dr. Mathews or Dr. McIntosh (Erbsville Dental, Waterloo, ON.) if you have any questions about oral cancer.
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Accordingly, always seek the advice of your Dentist or other healthcare providers regarding a dental condition or treatment.