June 17, 2011
Contact PDA: (717) 234-5941

PDA Stresses Importance of Screenings to Detect Oral Cancer

Oral cancer claims more lives than leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, laryngeal cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid cancer, or skin cancer. In 2010, approximately 36,540 Americans were diagnosed with this largely preventable type of cancer that affects the mouth and throat; 7,880 died of the disease. Early detection is essential to dramatically reduce the number of deaths from oral cancer.

The Pennsylvania Dental Association (PDA) urges you to take the necessary steps to protect yourself from oral cancer. It is important to visit the dentist twice a year and ensure that oral cancer screenings are a part of every checkup. An oral cancer examination can identify early signs of this disease, when it can be treated more successfully.

Dr. Bruce Terry, an endodontist from Wayne, says early detection is the best way to fight oral cancer.

During the exam your dentist will look for a red or white patch, a sore that bleeds easily or does not heal, a thick or hard lumpy spot or a roughed or crusted area. Other symptoms include pain or numbness, difficulty chewing, swallowing, or moving the jaw or tongue or a change in the way your teeth fit together.

If your dentist identifies an area that needs further evaluation, he or she can perform a test to determine if a common oral spot contains abnormal cells. A BrushTest is a specially designed brush to quickly and painlessly obtain a sample of cells. More than 30,000 dentists have used the BrushTest to detect more than 10,000 precancerous spots years before they could cause any harm to their patients.

Dentists also recommend you check your mouth at home monthly by looking at your lips and inside your mouth at your gums, cheeks and tongue. Contact your dentist immediately if you notice any abnormal changes.

Dr. Terry tells his patients that routine visits to the dentists are vital to check for suspicious lesions.

“Many oral cancers don’t hurt so patients don’t know there is a problem,” Dr. Terry said. “A hygienist is very adept at spotting red and white spots that need further investigation.”

He also suggests that any patient that sees a suspicious spot for more than one week should contact their dentist for further evaluation.

The likelihood of developing oral cancer increases with age, most often occurs in people over the age of 40 and affects twice as many men than women. Most cases are linked to the use of tobacco products, especially when combined with heavy alcohol consumption. However, more than 25 percent of oral cancers occur in people who do not smoke and have no other risk factors.

The best way to prevent oral cancer is to avoid all tobacco products and drink alcohol only in moderation. PDA also recommends wearing lip balm that contains sunscreen as lip cancer can be caused by prolonged sun exposure. Additionally, a diet high in fruits and vegetables may play a role in reducing the risk of developing oral cancer.

Researchers have been making progress in oral cancer studies and treatment. They discovered a naturally occurring protein in the body, called growth factors, that promotes cell growth. Some oral cancer cells grow faster than normal cells because they contain more growth receptors. While new drugs are being developed and tested, some are available now that block the effects of these growth-promoting proteins.

About the Pennsylvania Dental Association
Founded in 1868, the Pennsylvania Dental Association (PDA) is comprised of approximately 6,000 member dentists. It is a constituency of the American Dental Association (ADA), the largest and oldest national dental society in the world. PDA’s mission is to improve the public health, promote the art and science of dentistry and represent the interests of its member dentists and their patients. PDA is the voice of dentistry in Pennsylvania. Learn more about PDA.