Oral Cancer Screening

According to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, approximately 37,000 new new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed annually in the United States alone, with approximately 70% occurring in men. The median age at diagnosois is 62 years old. According to current statistics, this disease is fatal  22% of the time.

Approximately 90% of oral cancer arises on the surface lining of the oral cavity, and is therefore visible. This fact suggests that screening for oral cancer is quite simple and should be routinely performed.

There are two distinct pathways by which most people develop oral cancer. One is through the use of tobacco and alcohol, including smokeless tobacco. The other is through exposure to the HPV-16 virus, which is now the leading cause of oral cancers in the United States today. We are now seeing young, non-smoking individuals becoming the fastest growing segment of the oral cancer population.

Although it is not as popular, screening for oral cancer is just as important as exams for early detection of breast, cervical, colon, or prostate cancer. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, screening and early detection offer the best hope of reducing the devastating effects of this disease.

Most oral cancers present as ulcerations of the surface lining (mucosa) inside the mouth, or exophytic (irregular outgrowing) masses. Surface abnormalities (lesions) of the intraoral mucosa have been categorized according to color. They include leukoplakia (white areas) and erythroplakia (red areas), as well as a combination of both. Some of these white or red lesions contain cells which are pre-cancerous, therefore most of these intraoral lesions should be biopsied. Many of these biopsies can be performed very simply using CO2 laser surgery, with no sutures.