Why You Need Oral Cancer Screening

Why You Need Oral Cancer Screening

December 4, 2019

According to recent research, 53,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer and worse still one person succumbs to the disease every hour. Though not enough evidence exists, the current report claims you have a 90% chance of surviving oral cancer is detected early.

In most cases, death caused by cancer is due to late detection. At Dr. Vinit Shah’s dental clinic, we understand the importance of early detection that’s we offer cancer screening as part of the regular dental exam.

Why is Screening Done?

We do oral cancer screening to check for precancerous lesions that have the potential of causing cancer. We can remove these lesions easily when they are detected on time.

Who is at Risk?

There are two primary risk factors for oral cancer;

  • Tobacco use including cigars, cigarettes, pipes, and chewing is the single largest risk for oral cancer—contributes to about 85%. Secondhand smoke is just as dangerous
  • Frequent and heavy consumption of alcoholic beverages also increases the risk. Alcohol and tobacco combination aggravate the problem further.

Other factors that can raise your risk include;

  • Prolonged sun exposure is linked to cancer in the lip area
  • Human Papillomavirus is a risk factor for oropharyngeal cancer. HPV is sexually transmitted
  • People who are 45 years and above are at a higher risk
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Men are likely to develop oral cancer than women
  • Weakened immune system
  • Marijuana use
  • Poor diet and nutrition

Keep in mind that a risk factor may not necessarily cause cancer, but will influence the likelihood of cancer development. Moreover, some people with these risks may never develop cancer, while those who are risk-free do.

We encourage you to know your health status and discuss the risks that can predispose you to cancer with the doctor or dentist to help you make informed lifestyle choices.

What to Expect

The cancer screen aims to detect a lump or lesions. So, the doctor will examine your lips, gums, tongue, cheeks, the back of the throat and roof of the mouth. Two different exams are done;

  • A physical exam that involves touching the tongue, under the chin and jaw, the head, cheeks, and in the oral cavity to check for abnormal tissues.
  • Visual exam checks for asymmetries, pumps, swelling, patches, ulcerations, immobile tissues, and other abnormalities. The dentist will use a light and mirror to examine your mouth.

We use a variety of state-of-art devices to diagnose. Apart from tongue depressor, we employ the use of specialized equipment such as Oral CDx, VELscope (uses a blue light to identify suspicious tissues), and Orascoptic DK that releases an acidic mouthwash to aid in visual inspection of mouth tissues.

What If Abnormal Tissues Are Detected?

The purpose of oral cancer screening is to detect any abnormal tissues or cells. If detected, further tests may be required such as biopsy (it involves removing a small piece of lesion tissue and sending it to the lab) to determine if the tissues are cancerous or not.

The dentist or doctor may also ask you to come for a follow-up and screening especially if you have known risk factors.


Researchers and scientists continue to search for factors that cause oral cancer and ways to prevent it. Although there is still no proven way for preventing cancer, certain changes you may lower your risk.

  • Stop the use of tobacco
  • Reduce the risk of HPV by limiting your number of sexual partners. You can also get the FDA approved HPV vaccine
  • Practice healthy eating not only to improve your nutrition status but also your immune system

Are There Risks Involved?

Oral cancer screening has some limitations;

  • Overdiagnosis. The screening tests may detect benign or slow-growing cancers that may not necessarily lead to cancer or harm. Due to this, the patient may receive harmful treatments that they do not need.
  • False positives and reassurance
  • Increased testing. The doctors may do additional testing that you don’t need

At Dr. Vinit Shah, we consult with other oral cancer screening clinics in Elmhurst for a proper diagnosis.