Georgia's Online Cancer Information Center

Oral Cancer Screening and Prevention Tips

Dr. Jeffrey N. Suffoletta of Functional Aesthetic Dentistry

Oral Cancer Screening and Prevention Tips

Cancer is a disease in which medical professionals have made leaps and bounds in developing state-of-the-art treatments. Unfortunately, a cure has not yet been developed for a disease that claims lives across the world. It is crucial that you visit your physician for a regular checkup and be aware of anything abnormal going on with your body.  The number one factor for improving survival rates regarding cancer is early detection. This is especially true with Oral Cancer, which is why oral cancer screening is very important to do twice per year.

Oral Cancer is any type of cancer that starts in the mouth.  This includes the roof and floor of the mouth, gums, back of the throat, tonsils, inner lining of cheeks, lips, and tongue. Oral cancer is also categorized with cancers that develop in the head and neck.

Rates of Oral Cancer in the U.S.

In the U.S., the amount of people who will be diagnosed with oral cancer is estimated to be around 53,260 according to the American Cancer Society.  Out of that number, they predict that it will prove to be fatal for around 10,750 Americans. 

Demographic data shows that men are twice as likely to have oral cancer than women. It’s estimated that:

  • African Americans and Caucasians will develop oral cancer at the same rate. 
  • The average age of diagnoses for oral cancer is around 62. 
  • It’s rare for children to have oral cancer, however, a little over 25% of oral cancer patients are below the age of 55.

Unfortunately, no one is exempt from the risk of developing cancer. However, there are steps that we can personally take to reduce the risk. One of the most important steps you can take is abstaining from tobacco or quit if you already started. A total of 30% of cancer-related fatalities in the U.S. are attributed to smoking. A disturbingly high number of lung cancer is caused by smoking, 70% of women and 87% in men. 

Oral Cancer Prevention

If you’re tempted to try an alternative way of ingesting tobacco, it won’t reduce the risk. Pipes, spit, cigarettes, cigars are all proven to cause cancer. Your immune system is literally being poisoned by the toxins in cigarette smoke. This makes it hard for cancer cells to be killed and causes them to start growing to a point where they cannot be eliminated. Your DNA can also be damaged from the toxins that are present in tobacco smoke. When your DNA is damaged, the cells in your body can start spreading uncontrollably and tumors can develop. Studies have shown that reducing cigarette smoking does not reduce your chances of tobacco-related diseases. To reduce your chances, you have to regularly visit your dentist,  reduce excessive alcohol use and  reduce overexposure to the sun.

  • Excessive Alcohol Use

Alcohol use also increases your chances of having oral cancer.  Moderation is key if you choose to drink alcohol. The regular excessive consumption of alcohol can irritate the cells in your mouth, which increases the risk of mouth cancer.  For men who are 65 and women of all ages who have one drink a day is considered drinking in moderation. Men who are younger than 65 that have two drinks daily are considered within moderation. 

  • Overexposure to the Sun

When we think of dangerous sun rays and our health, we normally think of skin cancer. But excessive sun rays can also lead to oral cancer. Prevention of excessive sun exposure is as simple as staying out of the sun, finding shade, wearing sunglasses and a wide brim hat that covers your entire face and applying a lip balm with sunscreen.

  • Regular Dental Checkups

Regular visits to the dentist can be a lifesaver. Be sure to request that your dentist exams your entire mouth for any areas that may look abnormal. Your dentist should know what to look for and they may discover areas of your mouth that could reveal signs of pre-cancer or cancer.

Early detection with Velscope

The World Health Organization recognizes Velscope as one of the most widely used devices around the world that can detect through enhanced visualization oral abnormalities such as pre-malignant dysplasia or oral cancer.  Velscope is used as an oral cancer screening device that is quick and painless. 

It is important to be aware that Velscope does not diagnose oral cancer. It is an FDA- approved non-invasive tool that aids the dentist in finding abnormalities that are not visible to the naked eye. If the dentist finds something that looks out of the norm, they would proceed with taking photos and evaluating if a biopsy is needed to determine whether there is oral cancer present in the patient’s oral cavity.

Oral Cancer Symptoms

When maintaining your oral health, it is important to know what to look for that could give you a clue that something abnormal is growing in your mouth.  Some of the signs to look out for are the following:

  • Persistent pain in your jaws and teeth
  • Lumps in the neck
  • Detection of a lesion in the mouth, neck or throat
  • Bad breath that is regularly present
  • Frequent sore throats
  • A repeated feeling that something is lodged in your throat
  • Mouth sores that do not heal
  • Tongue numbness
  • Teeth that become loosened
  • Trouble chewing or swallowing

What should you do if you start displaying some symptoms?

Early detection of oral cancer Is the key to beating this potentially fatal disease. If you have persistent symptoms for weeks then you should make an appointment with the doctor. Dentists are the experts in medical conditions concerning the oral cavity. Finding a dental professional who specializes is Velscope would be a smart option.


Article provided by Dr. Jeffrey N. Suffoletta of Functional Aesthetic Dentistry.

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Georgia CORE is a statewide nonprofitthat leverages partnerships and innovation to attract more clinical trials, increase research, and promote education and early detection to improve cancer care for Georgians in rural, urban, and suburban communities across the state.