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Oral Pathology

Since the mouth is the area where changes are easily noticeable, it is possible to detect oral cancer when it is in its early stages. Regularly performing self-examination will help in the early detection & recognition of oral cancer, which increases the chances for cure.

Factors That May Cause Cancer

There are a number of factors which have been identified by research that might contribute to oral cancer development. The most common factors are:

  • - Use of alcohol & tobacco
    - Poor oral hygiene
    - Poor nutrition
    - Irritation caused by rough surfaces on teeth/ill-fitting dentures
    - Certain chronic infections
    - Combinations of all these factors

Studies have indicated that the oral cancer death rates are almost 4-tmes higher for smokers compared to nonsmokers. In the medical field, it is also widely believed that heat generated by smoking cigars & pipes, irritates the mouth & can result in lip cancer. People over 40-years of age are more susceptible to developing oral cancer and so are heavy smokers, drinkers and users of snuff & smokeless tobacco. 

Perform a Self-ExaM Monthly

Oral & maxillofacial surgeons recommend that all people should perform a monthly oral cancer self-exam. If you are a consumer of alcohol, a smoker, user of smokeless tobacco/snuff, you like in the high-risk category for oral cancer. It is important that you see your oral & maxillofacial surgeon/general dentist, for an annual exam. The oral examination is performed with the use of a bright light & mirror:

  • - Remove any dentures
    - Carefully look & feel just inside the lips & the front of your gums
    - Tilt back the head to feel & inspect the roof of the mouth
    - Pull the cheek outward to look at its inner surface & the back of your gums
    - Stick out your tongue & look at all surfaces
    - Feel for any enlarged lymph nodes (glands)/lumps on both the sides of your neck including just under the lower jaw

Early Detection and Treatment Provide a Better Chance for Cure

When you are performing a self-exam for oral cancer, these are the things you should be looking for:

  • - White patches of oral tissues are an indication of leukoplakia
    - Red patches indicate erythroplakia
    - Red & white patches could mean erythroleukoplakia
    - A sore that does not heal & bleeds easily
    - Thickening of tissues / an abnormal lump in the mouth
    - Chronic sore throat/hoarseness
    - Difficulty in swallowing/chewing
    - A lump/mass in the neck

See your oral & maxillofacial surgeon in case you notice any of these specific signs. If the surgeon agrees that some of these signs look suspicious, he/she may recommend a  biopsy. This involves removal of a piece of that suspicious tissue; it is sent to a pathology lab for microscopic examination that accurately diagnoses the problem. A biopsy report  helps in  establishing a diagnosis and enables your doctor to also develop a specific treatment plan.

A Word About Oral Care

Keep in mind that your mouth is one of your body's most important early warning systems. Don't ignore any suspicious lumps or sores. Should you discover something, make an appointment for a prompt examination. Early treatment may well be the key to complete recovery.

© 2005-2015 American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS). All rights reserved.

Reprinted with permission from American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons.