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Everything You Need to Know About Oral Cancer

Oral cancer is on the rise despite the advances in diagnostic techniques in medicine and dentistry. Screening is a routine part of a dental examination. Regular check-ups, including an examination of the entire mouth, are essential in the early detection of cancerous and pre-cancerous conditions. A few simple screening tests are now available and done routinely in the dentist”s office. Examples of such tests are the Brush technique, the Vizilite and Velscope – just to name a few.

How is a Diagnosis Made?
Your dentist will carefully examine the inside of your mouth and tongue and in some patients may notice a flat, painless, white or red spot or a small sore. Although most of these are harmless, some are not. Harmful oral spots or sores often look identical to those that are harmless but testing can tell them apart.

Velscope is an oral cancer-screening device, but the device does not diagnose cancer. The only way to prove that the abnormal tissue is cancerous is through biopsy performed by the appropriate specialist. As of now, the Velscope is the only non-invasive screening device that has been approved by the FDA for not only finding the area of abnormal tissue, but for helping locate the margin for surgery. Routine incorporation of the Velscope in the examination protocol for adolescents and adults in a general dental practice proved useful in identifying potentially premalignant lesions.

Dr. Angeletti of Gentle Touch Dentistry believes that the combination of the standard oral cancer exam combined with the Velscope is more likely to find potential problems than the exam alone. “It”s great to have an extra tool like the Velscope to improve the detection of cancer,” said Dr. Angeletti.

Facts and Risk Factors

Incidence and Mortality

  • Oral cancer strikes an estimated 34,360 Americans each year.# An estimated 7,550 people (5,180 men and 2,370 women) will die of these cancers in 2007.
  • More than 25 percent of the 30,000 Americans who get oral cancer will die of the disease.
  • On average, only half of those diagnosed with the disease will survive more than five years.
  • African-Americans are especially vulnerable; the incidence rate is 1/3 higher than whites and the mortality rate is almost twice as high.

Risk Factors

  • Although the use of tobacco and alcohol are risk factors in developing oral cancer, approximately 25 percent of oral cancer patients have no known risk factors.
  • There has been a nearly five-fold increase in incidence in oral cancer patients under age 40, many with no known risk factors.
  • The incidence of oral cancer in women has increased significantly, largely due to an increase in women smoking.


  • Oral Cancer often starts as a tiny, unnoticed white or red spot or sore anywhere in the mouth.
  • It can affect any area of the oral cavity including the lips, gum tissue, check lining, tongue and the hard or soft palate.
  • A change in the way the teeth fit together
  • Oral Cancer most often occurs in those who use tobacco in any form.
  • A sore that bleeds easily or does not heal
  • A color change of the oral tissues
  • A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
  • Pain, tenderness, or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue.
  • Alcohol use combined with smoking greatly increases risk.
  • Prolonged exposure to the sun increases the risk of lip cancer.
  • Oral Cancer is more likely to strike after age 40.
  • Studies suggest that a diet high in fruits and vegetables may prevent the development of potentially cancerous lesions

Prevention and Detection
Oral cancer is often preceded by the presence of clinically identifiable premalignant changes. These lesions may present as either white or red patches or spots. Identifying white and red spots that show dysplasia and removing them before they become cancer is an effective method for reducing the incidence and mortality of cancer.

The best way to prevent oral cancer is to avoid tobacco and alcohol use.# However, oral cancers can occur in people who do not smoke and have no other known risk factors.

Regular dental check-ups, including an examination of the entire mouth, are essential in the early detection of cancerous and pre-cancerous conditions.

  • Knowing the risk factors and seeing your dentist for oral cancer screenings can help prevent this deadly disease. Routine use of the Pap smear since 1955, for example, dramatically reduced the incidence and mortality rates for cervical cancer in the United States.

In light of the information above, Dr. Angeletti is urging everyone to schedule an appointment with the dentist and become more involved with their dental health by asking more questions about oral cancer and actually requesting a screening examination if you have not have one done recently.

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