Your dental professional may screen you for oral cancer even if you do not have symptoms. Screening test are useful as they can help detect oral cancers early, decreasing the chance of fatality due to these cancers. For most types of cancer, odds of survival are greatly increased if diagnosed at an early stage.
Your dentist may exam you for lesions in the mouth, lips, hard palate, gums, tongue and mucous membranes. If lesions are detected, a variety of screening methods may be used to further investigate such as:
- Biopsy – a small excision of the suspicious tissue is made and sent for microscopic examination.
- Exfoliative cytology – cells are obtained by means of scraping or smearing and examined.
- Imaging tests – X-rays, ultra sounds, or MRIs X-rays, ultrasounds and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are other, and possibly less invasive, methods of detecting oral cancer that involve using radio wave energy to view possible subsurface masses and lesions.
- Toluidine blue (vital staining) – This procedure involves wiping the suspicious mucosal area and applying Toluidine blue solution, which is a type of stain that colors abnormal cellular surfaces.
It is important to keep in mind that if your dentist has sent you to get oral cancer screening it is usually a precautionary measure and does not mean that you have cancer.