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Early Detection and Oral Cancer

Approximately 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral and pharyngeal cancer, and during the same time period 10,000 Americans will die of oral cancer.  Of those diagnosed with oral cancer, only about half will survive more than five years.  Tobacco, alcohol use, and HPV infection are major risk factors for oral cancer, but many cases arise spontaneously in otherwise healthy patients.  The key to treatment of any kind of cancer is early detection.  When this devastating disease is discovered early, less invasive or aggressive treatments are needed.  

In our office, we screen each patient carefully at every checkup for any changes in the oral cavity.  One adjunctive tool we use is the VELscope.  The VELscope is an early detection tool that uses a blue light to excite molecules in the deeper layers of the oral tissues.   These molecules emit their own light, and the VELscope’s filter then makes apparent any abnormalities.  If any abnormalities are detected, typically a biopsy is completed.

Oral cancer may first appear as a white or red patch of tissue in the mouth, or a small indurated ulcer which looks like a common canker sore.  Other symptoms may include a lump or mass which can be felt inside the mouth or neck, pain or difficulty in normal daily function, wart like masses, hoarseness which lasts for a long time, or any numbness in the oral/facial region.  There are many benign tissue changes that occur normally in your mouth, and some things as simple as a bite on the inside of your cheek may mimic the look of a dangerous tissue change; therefore, it is important to have any sore or discolored area that lasts beyond two weeks looked at by a professional.  You should also always make sure to get screened at your routine checkups too!

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