Oral cancer may be one of the least discussed cancers, but the facts are worth talking about: Research shows that more than 30,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer every year. And contrary to popular belief, about 25 percent of those diagnosed are not tobacco users. The mortality rate for oral cancer is higher than many types of cancers, including Hodgkins disease, cervical cancer, ovarian cancer and cancer of the brain.
Fortunately, some oral cancer statistics are encouraging. When caught early, oral cancer is one of the most treatable diseases - in fact, with early treatment there is a 90 percent success rate! And use of new light technology like Vizilite® Plus makes early detection of oral cancer fast, easy and pain-free. Vizilite Plus is an oral cancer detection system that identifies soft tissue abnormalities that may eventually turn into oral cancer. With the help of Vizilite Plus, your dentist can "see" abnormal tissues that aren't visible to the naked eye.
The Vizilite Plus Exam
It's understandable if the thought of an oral cancer exam makes you nervous. But before you let fear talk you out of getting checked for oral cancer, keep in mind that a Vizilite Plus exam is painless and fast! Typically, your Vizilite Plus oral cancer screening is combined with a regular dental exam, performed just after your dentist completes a visual examination of your mouth.
Here's what to expect from your Vizilite Plus oral cancer screening:
- You'll rinse your mouth with a cleansing solution
- Your dentist will dim the overhead lighting
- Using ViziLite Plus your dentist will look for abnormal tissue
As the ViziLite Plus light passes over your mouth, healthy tissues appear dark and problem areas white under this specialized light technology.
Is a Positive Reading Negative?
If you receive a positive reading for abnormal tissue after your oral cancer screening, keep in mind that it's not necessarily an indication of oral cancer. Vizilite Plus identifies both serious and benign abnormalities. That means a positive reading could signal tissue that's been damaged from things as harmless as cheek bites or food irritations. So try not to get too worked up, but rely on your dentist's prognosis. He or she will review the results and decide on next steps - whether that means an additional evaluation to rule out benign causes or a visit to a specialist for a final answer. In the interim, avoid tobacco, alcohol and foods that irritate the mouth (nuts, hard candies) until your next exam.
Why You Should Get One
As previously mentioned, oral cancer can be fatal; especially when discovered late in its development. But early detection can be the key that saves lives. When detected in its early stages, oral cancer can be treated more easily, quickly and economically. The only way to stay ahead of oral cancer is to have an oral cancer screening at least once a year. This is especially important for at-risk patients - anyone 18 or older and tobacco users of any age. An oral cancer screening doesn't have to be a separate or special appointment. In fact, it's usually combined with your regular dental exam -- all the more reason to visit your dentist regularly!
Oral Cancer Symptoms
The symptoms mouth cancer produce are oftentimes visible to the naked eye, appearing as a sore or ulcer that doesn't go away after a couple of weeks. Other symptoms of mouth cancer include:
- White or red patches anywhere in the mouth
- Lumps on the lip, tongue, throat or in the neck
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
- A feeling that something's caught in the throat
- Bleeding or numbness of the mouth
- Persistent sore throat
Additionally, those who wear dentures may notice their dentures starting to fit loosely. Others may notice their voice changing. If any of these symptoms of mouth cancer persist for more than two weeks, see your dentist or physician as soon as possible.