The Importance of Oral Cancer Screenings

April 18, 2017, Total Health Mag

Oral cancer screening
Oral cancer screening
Throughout the world, the number of adult patients diagnosed with oral cancer is growing. In the UK alone, an estimated 11,400 new cases of head and neck cancer were diagnosed in 2014, representing 31 new cases each day.


Since 1990, the rate of oral cancer has increased by nearly one-third, presenting more in females than in males, and affecting more older individuals than those younger than age 65. Over the next two decades, trends point to an increase in oral cancer diagnoses among all populations by 33%, ultimately affecting 20 people per 100,000 by the year 2035.

The rate of oral cancer mortality has remained relatively steady over the last nearly 40 years, but recently, a rise in deaths related to oral cancer activity has begun a steady climb. It is projected that by the year 2035, mortality rates linked to oral cancer will increase by 38%, representing seven deaths per 100,000 people. Given the fact that nearly 91% of oral cancer cases are preventable, the dental professional community has an opportunity to help patients of all demographic backgrounds reduce their risks of developing the disease through simple patient screenings.

Who’s Most at Risk for Oral Cancer


There are several risk factors at play as it relates to oral cancer among both men and women, including a patient’s age, genetic background, and an exposure to certain lifestyle choices. The preventable cases of oral cancer are highly correlated to obvious risk factors, such as smoking, heavy alcohol intake, and infections of the mouth, but both males and females may also be susceptible to oral cancer given their use of smokeless tobacco, exposure to radiation, or certain occupational hazards. In some cases, a poor diet that lacks fruits and vegetables has been connected to oral cancer diagnoses, while having a different type of cancer may also be a risk factor for some adult patients. Additionally, patients who have been diagnosed with Human papillomavirus (HPV) have a higher chance of being diagnosed with oral cancer – a trend that has increased over the last few years.

Steps to Reduce the Disease


When a patient is at moderate to high risk of oral cancer, few steps can be taken to decrease his or her chances of being diagnosed with the disease over time. Improving diet by including fruits, vegetables, Vitamin C-rich foods or supplements, and calcium are all shown to reduce the risk of oral cancer in men and women. Similarly, individuals who engage in regular physical activity versus those who lead a sedentary lifestyle reduce their chances of experiencing oral cancer by 26-47%, research shows. When lifestyle choices made by the patient increase their risk, reducing or eliminating them altogether is the patient’s best course of action. This includes limiting alcohol intake and giving up smoking of all kinds.

Dental professionals can also lend a hand in the fight against oral cancer by teaching patients to perform self-evaluations to catch signs and symptoms early on, and by performing simple screenings when patients come in for routine dental visits. The self-evaluation process involves a visual inspection of the mouth, cheeks, gums, and teeth, specifically looking for any noticeable signs of changes, like lesions, changing colors, or ulcers. Patients should also feel for lumps and bumps in the gums and cheeks, based on education provided to them by their dentist. While self-evaluation as an oral cancer screening is helpful in finding issues in the early stages, more can be done to reduce oral cancer among patients.

A team of medical negligence specialists who work closely with claims involving oral cancer misdiagnosis explains that because the number of cases has increased in the past few years, a renewed objective across patient advocate groups and dental professionals around the country has focused on more in-depth screenings. The Dental Defense Union, for instance, recently published guidelines for dental professionals in an effort to assist them correctly diagnose oral cancers early on. These guidelines include being up to date with professional development, asking questions about a patient’s lifestyle choices, thoroughly documenting any lesions or swelling found during an exam, and make immediate referrals to specialists any time there is a concern a symptom may be cancerous. Not only do these guidelines make it easier protect dental professionals, but they are also the first line of defense against a rising number of oral cancer cases among patients in the UK.

Oral cancer is slowly climbing the list of common, severe medical issues among adults in the UK, but a high number of cases are fully preventable. Dental professionals have a responsibility to educate their patients on the steps they can take to reduce the chance of an oral cancer diagnosis, as well as the proper methods to self-examine if they think a symptom may be cause for concern. Alongside their patients, dentists can help lower the rate of oral cancer diagnosis by performing in-depth screenings during office visits and referring individuals as quickly as possible to specialists in the field. 


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