How to Check for Mouth Cancer at Home
Oral cancer is something that most people, including doctors and dentists, don't think about on a regular basis. The death rate for oral cancer is higher than for any other type of cancer, including malignant melanoma, Hodgkin's lymphoma, and cervical and thyroid cancers.
The high death rate isn't because oral cancer is hard to catch or necessarily difficult to remove, but because it's often caught too late. Over-scheduled doctors are so preoccupied with getting to all their patients in a timely manner, they forget or neglect to perform routine oral cancer examinations. Our trust in doctors also contributes to the problem, with most believing that if the doctor says we are healthy, we are. Yet this is rarely the case. To combat cancer and other ailments, we must take our health into our own hands.
This article is in no way a substitute for regular dental check ups and dental cleanings. However, it will teach you to keep a vigilant eye for anything abnormal in your mouth.
Talk with your hygienist about oral cancer the next time you go in, and be sure they do an oral cancer screening every six months.
In the meantime, I will teach you how to check for oral cancer on your own time. Screening for oral cancer takes roughly two to three minutes.
How to Check for Oral Cancer at Home
1. Check your lips.
Use bidigital palpation (pictured below) to feel for any hard lumps or areas of soreness. Pinch your lip by placing your pointer finger on the inside of your mouth, and your thumb on the outside. Apply moderate pressure, pressing the lip tissue between your finger and thumb.
2. Check your cheeks.
Use bidigital palpation to feel your cheeks. Feel for any hard lumps or areas of soreness.
3. Check the floor of your mouth.
Use bimanual palpation (pictured below) to feel the floor of your mouth, which is the area under your tongue. Place the pointer finger of one hand under your tongue, while pressing up with the thumb of the other hand on the outside of the jaw. Directly oppose the finger in your mouth. Feel for any hard lumps or areas of soreness. Press firmly.
4. Check your tongue.
Use bidigital palpation to feel your tongue. Stick your tongue out and palpate the body of the tongue, feeling for lumps or areas of soreness.
5. Examine the surface of your tongue for blemishes.
Stick your tongue out, grab the tip, and look at each side for any anomalies. The sides of the tongue are the most common places to find oral cancer. Don't confuse varicosities, also known as veins, for something abnormal. You may also see circumvallate papillae, which are large bumps at the back of the tongue. These are normal.
6. Say, "Ahh."
Stick your tongue out, say "Ahh," and look at your oropharyngeal area, also known as your tonsils, for any inflammation or sores. It is normal for some people's tonsils to have indented pockets in them. Look for features that seem inflamed or out of place, as this is not normal.
7. Check the roof of the mouth.
Tilt your head back and look at the roof of your mouth. Look for sores and inflammation. Rule out any burns you may have acquired from eating food that is too hot.
8. Check your gums.
Pull out your lips and look very closely at your gums. Are there sores on your gums or patches of discolored tissue? Do your gums bleed when you lightly touch them, or when they are not provoked at all?
How to Self Check for Oral Cancer (Video Tutorial)
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, go to your dentist immediately.
- Mouth sores that don't heal within two weeks.
- White, red, black, or discolored patches.
- Swelling, lumps, bumps, or odd growths that are not found on both sides of the mouth.
- Excessive or spontaneous bleeding or puss coming out of a lesion or open sore.
- Difficulty or pain when swallowing.
- Difficulty or pain when moving the jaw or tongue.
- A constant feeling that something is stuck in your throat.
- Continuous pain in the ear.
- Persistent headache.
Below are the things you may find in your mouth during your examination, but which are not abnormal. Oral health is a complex subject, and I can't touch on everything, but I will give you a good idea of the details in your mouth you shouldn't worry about.
- Linea alba: This appears as thin white lines inside your cheeks. This is a normal, hyper-keratinized area where you bite your cheeks, or where your cheeks rest between your teeth. The thin line will follow the biting plane, or the area where your teeth meet.
- Parotid papillae: Also known as Stensen's duct, parotid papille can be found inside your cheeks, toward the front of your mouth. It is a bump of extra tissue on the inside of each corner of your mouth. (You may sometimes bite them by accident.) These bumps are an outlet for your saliva glands and are normal, unless they are particularly hard.
- Fordyce granules: These are tiny white or yellowish-white spots on the inside of your cheeks or lips. They are nothing more than ectopic sebaceous glands, which are completely normal.
- Swollen lymph nodes: Swollen lymph nodes are often associated with illness or inflammation. If the swelling doesn't go away within a week or two, see a doctor. Places where lymph nodes are located include: the front and back of your neck; in front and behind your ears; in the cheek area; and on top of your shoulders. When swollen, they will often be sensitive or sore, and may be visible.
- Exostoses: This is an extra bone growth commonly found under the tongue along the bony ridge, or on the hard palate. These growths may bulge out and are often rounded, sometimes involving a few bony lumps in one mass. The ones under the tongue are often found on each side of the face, while the ones on the hard palate are often singular.
- Aphthous ulcer: Also known as a canker sore, this is a small to medium, round ulcer. It usually has a white interior and bright red border. They are very sensitive and can affect your oral hygiene and eating. They should go away within a week or two. Taking zinc will help to speed up this process, and will also help prevent future canker sores. If the ulcer does not go away within two weeks, you should contact your dentist.
- Circumvallate papillae: These are large, protruding bumps on the back of the tongue arranged in a V shape. They are the largest of the four types of taste buds, and most people have about 10 to 14 of them.
Oral Cancer Facts and Statistics
- Oral cancer is a common cancer of global concern.
- Early detection has the potential to significantly reduce oral cancer death and morbidity.
- Known risk factors include tobacco and alcohol consumption, which, together, are responsible for about 75 percent of oral cancers.
- There is an alarming increase in oropharyngeal cancer cases seen in the 18 to 40 age group.
- More than 25 percent of oral cancers occur in people without risk factors of tobacco or excessive alcohol consumption.
- Oral cancer is usually completely painless in its early stages.
- 8,000 people in the US will die of oral cancer this year.
- 40,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year.
- Of the 40,000 people diagnosed, only 57% will still be alive in five years.
- Approximately $3.2 billion is spent on oral cancer in the US per year.
- Worldwide, 640,000 people will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year.
- Late stage discovery of oral cancer is not the exception, it is the norm.
- Discovery of oral cancer at a late stage usually means it has already spread to the larynx and other secondary locations.
- When discovered at a late stage, the chance of a recurrence is multiplied 20-fold for the next 10 years.
- Anyone can get oral cancer, though factors such as smoking, chewing tobacco, chewing betel nut, drinking alcohol, HIV/AIDS, HPV-16 virus, and aging increase the likelihood.
Will you start checking yourself for oral cancer?
Do you know anyone who has had oral cancer?
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