How Frequently Should You Get Oral Cancer Screenings?
During a dental visit, it would be a good idea to get an oral cancer screening to see if you are at risk of developing oral cancer. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about 49,700 people in the United States are diagnosed with oral cancer every year. Getting screened for this disease will help catch early signs before they become more advanced. Early detection can improve a person’s chances of successful treatment.
Get screened at least once a year
Dentists generally recommend that everyone should have regular oral cancer screenings. Adults older than 20 are encouraged to get screened every three years. Since oral cancer rates increase with age, those over 40 need to have an oral cancer screening at least once a year. The frequency may vary, depending on certain risk factors.
Who is at an increased risk?
Besides age, a person may have to get oral cancer screenings more often if they smoke or drink alcohol. Gender is also a risk factor. The NIH confirms that the oral cancer rate is significantly higher for men than women, possibly due to men being more likely to use tobacco and alcohol in the past. Other risk factors include human papillomavirus infection, prolonged sun exposure, and poor oral hygiene. Family history, excess body weight, and an unhealthy diet can also raise a person’s risk of developing the condition.
What to expect in an oral cancer screening?
There are two primary components in an oral cancer screening: visual exam and physical exam. During a visual exam, the dentist will check the patient’s face, cheeks, lips, jaw, neck, and inside of the nose and mouth. The goal is to look for abnormalities, such as bumps, swellings, color patches, ulcerations, and asymmetries. The dentist will use a light and mirror to look inside the mouth. To take a peek at the back of the mouth, a tongue depressor will be used to hold down the tongue.
On the other hand, a physical exam involves touching the face, neck, and mouth to feel any unusual growths or masses. This tactile inspection allows dentists to find nodules and hard lumps of tissues. Symptoms of oral cancer can be painful sometimes. But it is often painless, especially in its early stages. This is even more of a reason to get oral cancer screening regularly.
Oral cancer is preventable
The NIH states that oral cancer is a largely preventable type of cancer. So, it is a good idea to quit smoking and limit alcohol intake. Stay out of the sun, especially when the harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun are at their strongest. Equally important is to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Since the disease is treatable once caught early, patients should have an oral cancer screening during a regular dental checkup. Try examining your mouth in the mirror once a month. If you spot something unusual, do not hesitate to call the dentist.
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