Medically reviewed by: Dr. Robert Segal, M.D.
Firstly, as April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, we’d like to announce that Upper East Dental Innovations is doing free Oral Cancer Screenings ($100 value) for LabFinder patients throughout the whole month of April! You can book your appointment by clicking here.
However, you might be wondering, “why do I even need an oral cancer screening?”
Well, the truth could be surprising…
We asked Dr. Harvey of Upper East Dental Innovations to weigh in on the importance of having an oral cancer screening, who might need one more than others, and the most common question of all — does it hurt?!
Let’s start off with the basics —
What is Oral Cancer?
As Dr. Harvey put it, “Oral Cancer is a disease that affects not only the oral cavity, which includes the floor of the mouth, lips, tongue, soft tissues of the mouth, but also the oropharynx. Ninety percent of the oral cancers we see are from epithelium of the mouth (think of the “skin” lining the inside of your mouth) and others are from the salivary glands.”
Who could be at risk for Oral Cancer?
Anyone could guess that smoking and heavy drinking could be huge risk factors for oral cancer, but did you know that STDs, in particular the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) could also come into play?
According to Mount Sinai, “Over the past decade there has been at least a four- to five-fold increase in the number of oropharynx cancers in the US. The oropharynx includes the tonsils and the base of the tongue. The increase in these cancers is a result of HPV infection. Almost all of these cancers are caused by HPV16, a subtype of the HPV virus. Research indicates that approximately 70 percent of cases of oropharynx cancer is caused by HPV16. These cancers have the HPV16 virus detectable in the tumor. The number of HPV positive cancers of the tonsil and base of tongue (oropharyngeal cancer) is rising quickly. Several studies evaluating the prevalence of active oral HPV infection have found that three to five percent of adolescents and five to 10 percent of adults have an active HPV infection. More than 3% of adult men and 1% of adult woman have HPV16 detectable in their saliva at any one time. In contrast to active infection, estimates are that 90 percent of adults have been exposed to HPV16 and 70% have evidence of infection as demonstrated by the presence of HPV16 antibodies in their blood.” It’s believed that contacting HPV16 could be through having sexual contact with someone who may have this oncogenic strain — this includes vaginal, anal, and oral sex.
What happens during an oral cancer screening?
It doesn’t hurt at all! According to Dr. Harvey, “it only takes about 2 mins and it’s completely painless.”
Dr. Harvey says a thorough head and neck exam should be completed every time you go in for your 6 month dental visit, if you are a new patient or if you are an emergency patient as well.
“We are looking for red lesions which may or may not be bleeding, white patches that don’t wipe off or mixed red and white patches, or lumps in your neck or mouth. There are other reasons why we may see lesions that are not premalignant or malignant, such a trauma, or a habit, such as cheek biting. If we suspect trauma, typically we would ask the patient to return in 7 days, and check the lesion again. If we suspect a premalignancy, we can take a brush biopsy or refer the patient to an oral surgeon for further evaluation. It’s really important that your dentist screen for oral cancer because in many cases, the precancerous lesions will precede oral cancer and if we detect them early enough we have the opportunity to prevent oral cancer,” says Harvey.
If you are at all curious, worried, or suspicious of anything going on in your mouth, we recommend to book your appointment with your dentist ASAP!
Dr. Sharde Harvey, DDS. FICOI. MS, Clinical Instructor at NYU College of Dentistry and Assistant Attending at Lenox Hill, Department of Otolaryngology. Dr. Harvey has been featured across various media agencies such as Bustle, Buzzfeed, and Pregnancy and Newborn Magazine due to her expertise of over 15 years in General, Cosmetic and Implant Dentistry. Moreover, Dr. Harvey is an active volunteer for the Oral Cancer Foundation and volunteers her time to various corporations and businesses to bring Oral Cancer awareness to her local community.
Written by: LabFinder Team / Approved by: Dr. Robert Segal, M.D.