Oral Cancer Screening


According to the National Cancer Institute at the NIH, “Screening is looking for cancer before a person has any symptoms. This can help find cancer at an early stage. When abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat. By the time symptoms appear, cancer may have begun to spread.”

As part of any dental examination I always take a good look at the tissues and check for lumps. The problem for dentists is that by the time we detect an oral cancer it is no longer in the early stages and the long term prognosis is not that great. Even for survivors, the surgery to remove the tumor can be extensive and disfiguring.

What’s available for dentists?

There have been attempts at early diagnosis with special lights and/or special dyes. Up until now there have been less than stellar reviews on these products. They cost the doctor a good bit of money, which is then passed on to the patient. Then there are a significant number of false positives and false negatives, which either misses the cancer or has the patient go through an unnecessary biopsy. Ugh!

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are 3 signals to screen more carefully: tobacco users, heavy alcohol users, and people with a previous oral cancer diagnosis.

What is needed?

What the dental profession needs is a quality system to identify cancers early with a very high level of certainty that there is some cancer or pre-cancer there to be treated, and can be performed without high costs. Companies are working on it, but there is more work to be done at this time.