NEW FROM THE DDS GUARDIAN
ORAL CANCER SCREENING IN THE DENTAL OFFICE: A VITAL PUBLIC SERVICE
Colin S. Bell, DDS, MSD - Director
The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2017 approximately 49,670 new cases of oral and
oropharyngeal cancer cases were diagnosed in the Unites States resulting in approximately 9,700
deaths. Over 80% of these cases were classified as squamous cell carcinomas, with the majority
occurring in individuals over the age of 35. Alcohol consumption and tobacco use continue to
be the most common risk factors in the development of oral cancer; however there has been an
increasing frequency of tongue and soft palate squamous cell carcinoma attributable to human
papillomavirus (HPV), particularly HPV 16.
Oral cancer screening provides an opportunity to evaluate an asymptomatic patient to determine
if he or she is “likely” or “unlikely” to have a malignant or potentially malignant oral lesion. This
screening should include a visual and physical examination. The purpose of the screening is to
examine the oral tissues, including the tongue, floor of mouth, lips, gingivae, hard and soft palate,
pharyngeal tissues, and the buccal mucosa to identify any potential abnormalities, including but
not limited to, a red or white patch, a sore or ulcer that bleeds easily or does not heal, a thick or
hard spot or a lump, and/or a roughened or crusted area.
Additionally, the dentist may ask questions about other signs of oral cancer that could include
pain, numbness, difficulty when swallowing, chewing, speaking, or moving the tongue.