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Oral cancer is one of the most prevalent forms of the disease, with an estimated 37,000 new cases diagnosed every year. Oral cancer can develop due to anything from smoking to oral hygiene practices and can be life-threatening when it is not found early.

What Are the Signs of Oral Cancer?

There are many signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for when it comes to oral cancer. Your mouth is lined with a layer of skin (mucosa) that is coral pink and smooth. Any difference in appearance may be a sign of a worrisome condition like cancer. Patients should pay special attention to:

  • Red patches (erythroplasia)
  • White spots (leukoplakia)
  • Sores that do not heal
  • Bleeding sores
  • Thickening of the skin in the mouth
  • A mass or lump in the neck
  • Chronic sore or dry throat
  • Voice hoarseness
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Pain in the mouth

These symptoms may develop in any part of the mouth, including the lips, cheeks, palate, gum tissue, tongue, face, or neck.

Not every patient with oral cancer develops facial or neck pain. Contact your dentist or doctor right away should you see any of the above symptoms.

Causes of Oral Cancer

While there are several potential causes for oral cancer, some of the most common include:

  • Tobacco and alcohol use
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Chronic infections
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Uneven or rough surfaces on the teeth
  • Ill-fitting dentures

How Do You Evaluate Oral Cancer?

Dr. Salamati performs an oral cancer evaluation as a part of your bi-yearly dental check-up. This will include an examination of the gums, teeth, tongue, floor of the mouth, uvula, lips, and palate.

A biopsy may be recommended if there is any suspicious coloration or sores in the mouth that have no other apparent reason. The results of the biopsy will reveal whether the lesion is oral cancer or a non-cancerous mouth sore.

Oral Biopsy Procedure

A biopsy takes a diagnostic sample of the tissue in question. There are two ways to perform this evaluation. An incisional biopsy removes a small portion of the tissue; whereas an excisional biopsy removes all of the abnormal tissue.

This procedure can be completed in under 15 minutes, and only requires local anesthesia to numb the area.

A small piece of the affected tissue is removed and carefully preserved. Depending on the size of the sample, stitches may be required.

What Is the Recovery?

Since your biopsy is performed under anesthesia, there will be no pain during or immediately following the procedure. Some patients experience some soreness and discomfort once the numbness dissipates, which can be handled with over-the-counter medication like TYLENOL® or ibuprofen.

Most patients return to work and their usual activities immediately; and since the stitches are dissolvable, there is no need for a follow-up appointment to remove them. The sutures should dissolve entirely within two weeks.

A follow-up appointment may be scheduled to discuss the results of the biopsy with you, and to develop a treatment plan, should one be necessary.

When Will You Learn the Results?

The biopsy taken by your dentist will be sent to the laboratory where an oral pathologist performs a careful evaluation of the tissue. Most results can be given within two to three days of the biopsy. Once the notes have been received from the pathologist, you and your dentist will develop a treatment plan for your diagnosis.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

Regardless of your biopsy results, we recommend that all patients perform self-examinations every month to identify any new abnormalities. Oral cancer is very treatable, and the survival rate of oral cancer is very high when it is detected early. Men and women should be aware of any unexplainable lumps or sores and should seek medical attention promptly.