Oral Cancer Awareness Month

added on: April 12, 2017

April is oral cancer awareness month. In our office we do an extensive oral cancer screening, checking lymph nodes and glands on the neck.  We evaluate the soft tissues in the mouth including tongue, cheeks, lips, floor and roof of the mouth, and the tonsil area. During the evaluation we check for abnormal lumps and bumps, lesions, abnormal redness, abnormal patches of white cells, and abnormal tissue formations and shapes.  Oral cancer can be involved in the head and neck areas as well as the mouth.

Oral cancer contains an abnormal group of cells that develop inside the mouth on soft tissue surfaces.  Oral cancer is a silent killer and everyone is at risk. Things like tobacco and excessive alcohol use increase your chances of the disease. Being male increases your chances of oral cancer as more men use tobacco and alcohol, although this may change due to an increase in alcohol and tobacco among women.  Many oral cancer findings are on men and women ages 55 and older, but oral cancer has been found as young as the age of 5.  Excessive sun exposure, lack of fruits and vegetables in one’s diet, HPV, suppression of the immune system, lichen planus, or if you have had a stem cell transplant are all increased risk factors for oral cancer.  Genetic factors including Fanconi anemia and Dyskeratosis congenita also play a role in the development of this silent killer. HPV #16 is now considered the number one cause of oral cancer.

Oral cancer kills one person every hour of each day in the United States.  Only 60% will live longer than 5 years. The death rate is high due to finding oral cancer in its later stages. If found in its early stages (Stages 1 and 2), success of removing the cancer and survival rates are high, at 80%-90%. The tongue is the most common site for oral cancer findings.  Oral Cancer is considered a silent killer due to symptoms occurring late.


A sore, irritation, lump or thick patch in the mouth, lip, or throat

A white or red patch in the mouth

A feeling that something is caught in the throat

Difficulty chewing or swallowing

Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue

Numbness in the tongue or other areas of the mouth

Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable

Pain in one ear without hearing loss


Vizilite Plus is a 5 minute test using chemiluminescent to help detect abnormal areas in the mouth. It includes rinsing with a solution for 30-60 seconds, using a light and protective eye wear to evaluate the tissues. The idea behind Vizilite Plus is early detection and is recommended for patients with increased or high risk of oral cancer disease. Increased risks includes HPV 16 diagnosis, ages 18 or older, excessive use of tobacco and alcohol or previous diagnosis of oral cancer.  There is insufficient evidence that this product improves patient compliance or will aide with patient education.  False readings can lead to patient anxieties and unnecessary cost.  Once cancer has developed, it is usually seen without a light.

Velscope is another system using light based detection to help detect abnormal tissues with a blue light.  Therefore, rinsing is not needed with Velscope. Abnormal fluorescence patterns provide the clinician with sights of unhealthy mucosal tissue that sometimes cannot be seen with the naked eye. This includes any tissue undergoing a change (which can occur in the oral mucosa for a multitude of reasons and may lead to false readings) such as premalignant dysplasia or oral cancer.


The benefits of the above products and other cancer detecting devices are about early detection. The products above do not determine if a patient has cancer, but finds abnormalities. The golden standard for determining cancer is oral evaluation and scalpel biopsy. Even if some abnormalities are considered benign, the idea of sending a few extra patients to oral surgery for biopsy is better than missing a malignant area.  These devices are becoming increasingly accurate and less invasive.  It is an aide to an oral cancer screening performed by a dental or health care professional. Early detection is always crucial to survival.


Click the link below if you’d like to make a donation for the oral cancer foundation.




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