Do You Have Oral Cancer? Here’s How You Can Perform a Self-Exam at Home
Oral cancer is a dangerous condition that afflicts 45,000 Americans every year – and if left unchecked, it can be deadly. Thankfully, though, it’s easy to treat if caught early. That’s why your dentist looks for signs of oral cancer at your check-ups. If you’re at high risk of developing oral cancer, though, you’ll also want to perform your own at-home screenings. If you’re a heavy drinker, a tobacco user, or at risk of contracting HPV, a self-exam once every month will go a long way to ensuring your mouth stays healthy. So how can you do your own oral cancer screenings at home? Here’s what you need to know.
Check Your Face and Neck for Sores and Swelling
The first step of an oral cancer screening is a visual examination of your face, head, and neck. Stand in front of a mirror and look for asymmetrical lumps – that is, look for lumps, sores, or swelling that occur on one side of your neck or face but not the other. If you’re free of oral cancer, your head, face, and neck should be symmetrical – any kind of asymmetry could indicate that oral cancer is present.
You’ll also want to check for new moles or other growths, as they can indicate the presence of oral cancer.
Feel Your Lips for Bumps
The next step of an oral cancer exam is to check your lips. Pull up your upper lips and start examining your lips and gums. Feel your lips for any kind of lump. You’ll also want to look for discolored spots – a red or white patch or a sudden change in color might indicate that you’re developing oral cancer, especially if it has persisted for more than two weeks.
Be aware, though, that not all gum discoloration is indicative of cancer. Some medications (like Advair, minocycline, blood pressure medications, oral contraceptives, immunosuppressive drugs, and some chemotherapy drugs) can cause gum discoloration. If a medication has turned your gums a different color, it’s likely a harmless side effect – but see your dentist to be certain.
Look for Patchy, Lumpy Cheeks
Once you’ve assessed your lips, the next step is to check out your cheeks. Pull back the sides of your mouth to take a good look at the insides of your cheeks. The key things you’re looking for are lumps and discoloration. A red, white, or darkened patch on the inside of your cheek may be a symptom of oral cancer.
A touch test is also a good idea. Set your index finger against the inside of your cheek, and place your thumb on the outside. Roll your cheek between your finger and thumb to check for lumps or tenderness. If you find a lump or a tender spot, it could be oral cancer.
Check the Color of Your Palate
Even if you’ve assessed your lips, cheeks and neck, oral cancer might be hiding on your palate – so do a palate exam when checking for oral cancer. Facing a mirror, tilt your head back and open your mouth wide. Try to spot any dark areas, discolored areas, or lumps. If necessary, use a small flashlight. You can also run your fingers along your palate to check for lumps.
Assess Tongue Texture and Color
The last part of your mouth to check is your tongue. Gently pull your tongue out and take a look at each side. If you see any swelling, bumps, or sudden color changes, it might be a sign of cancer. Don’t forget to examine the underside of your tongue – touch the tip of your tongue to your palate and do the exam again.
Oral cancer screenings are fast and easy, and they can help you to spot cancer before it becomes a problem. If you do happen to notice potential symptoms of oral cancer during a self-screening, you’ll want to immediately make an appointment with a dentist. Your Tucson dentist can help you to determine whether what you’ve spotted is a warning sign or just a benign quirk. For more information, or to book an oral cancer screening with Dr. Badie, call Badie Dental today at (520) 433-9800.