An oral cancer screening is an examination performed by a dentist or doctor to look for signs of cancer or precancerous conditions in your mouth.
The goal of oral cancer screening is to identify mouth cancer early when there is a greater chance for a cure.
Most dentists perform an examination of your mouth during a routine dental visit to screen for oral cancer. Some dentists may use additional tests to aid in identifying areas of abnormal cells in your mouth.
The goal of oral cancer screening is to detect mouth cancer or precancerous lesions that may lead to mouth cancer at an early stage — when cancer or lesions are easiest to remove and most likely to be cured.
People with a high risk of oral cancer may be more likely to benefit from oral cancer screening, though anyone can benefit from a thorough look around. Factors that can increase the risk of oral cancer include:
Tobacco use of any kind, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, and snuff, among others
Heavy alcohol use
A previous oral cancer diagnosis
History of significant sun exposure, which increases the risk of lip cancer
The number of people diagnosed with mouth and throat cancers has been rising over the last several years, though it isn't clear why. An increasing number of these cancers are associated with the sexually transmitted infection human papillomavirus (HPV).
During an oral cancer screening exam, your dentist looks over the inside of your mouth to check for red or white patches or mouth sores. Using gloved hands, your dentist also feels the tissues in your mouth to check for lumps or other abnormalities. The dentist may also examine your throat and neck for lumps.
If your dentist discovers any signs of mouth cancer or precancerous lesions, he or she may recommend:
A follow-up visit in a few weeks to see if the abnormal area is still present and note whether it has grown or changed over time.
A biopsy procedure to remove a sample of cells for laboratory testing to determine whether cancer cells are present. Your dentist may perform the biopsy, or you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in oral cancer diagnosis and treatment.