Oral Cancer Screening: Who Needs It?

oral cancer screeningOral cancer or mouth cancer is one of the most common types of cancer. It can affect any of the soft tissues around the mouth, including the lips, cheeks, tongue and inside of the mouth.

An oral cancer screening provided by a dentist can detect the disease at an early stage when there's a greater chance of successful treatment and recovery.

What are the risk factors for oral cancer?

There's no single cause of mouth cancer, but tobacco use is thought to be responsible for around 80% of cases. Secondary smoke can also increase your risk of developing cancers.[1]

Other lifestyle factors that could increase your risk include:

  • heavy alcohol consumption
  • poor nutrition
  • poor oral health and oral hygiene
  • chewing your lips or cheeks
  • sun exposure (for lip cancer)

Oral cancer gets more common with age and tends to affect more men than women, but it can affect people of all ages.

A family history of oral cancer and health problems such as cold sores, human papilloma virus (HPV), Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and leukoplakia can also increase your risk of developing the disease.

What are the symptoms?

Some of the common signs that oral cancer may be present include:

  • a lump or swelling around your mouth, lips or throat
  • an ulcer or red or white patch in your mouth that doesn't heal
  • bleeding from your mouth
  • part of your mouth feels numb
  • sore throat or difficulty swallowing
  • difficulty chewing or moving your tongue or jaw
  • teeth feel loose
  • changes to speech or taste

If you spot any of these possible symptoms, you should see your dentist for an oral cancer screening. Regular screenings improve the chance of mouth cancer being detected early, even before any symptoms may be present.

Getting a diagnosis

An oral cancer screening is the first step in diagnosing possible mouth cancer. Screening is painless and only takes a few minutes. It can be completed by your dentist as part of your regular dental hygiene visit.

If your dentist notices possible evidence of oral cancer, they will refer you to a doctor who can provide a more thorough diagnosis. This may involve:

  • checking your medical history
  • physical examination of your mouth
  • endoscopy to examine your nose, mouth and throat
  • biopsy to remove suspected tissue
  • scans such as an x-ray, ultrasound, CT, MRI or PET scan

Can oral cancer be treated?

Treatment for mouth cancer is more likely to be successful if it's caught early. Treatments depend on where the cancer is and how much it has developed.

For smaller cancers, a surgeon may be able to surgically remove the tumour and some surrounding tissues. Other cancers may require radiation therapy, chemotherapy or a combination of approaches to destroy the cancer cells.

Doctors will arrange regular check-ups to make sure the cancer hasn't returned or to catch any new problems early. Palliative care will also be recommended to help patients manage cancer symptoms and lower their risk factor.

See a dentist in Sydney CBD

If you need a check-up or there's something on your mind and you want to talk to a dentist, contact our friendly team at Sydney CBD Dental.

Call us today on (02) 9232 3900 or book an appointment at our clinic at 300 George Street.


[1] Better Health Channel. Mouth cancer [Online] 2012 [Accessed August 2019] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/mouth-cancer

[2] Healthdirect. Mouth cancer [Online] 2018 [Accessed August 2019] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/mouth-cancer