If you’ve booked an appointment for an oral cancer screening, you may be apprehensive about what the screening will entail. Here is a quick guide that explains the process and what you can expect before, during, and after your oral cancer screening.
• Before – There is no special physical preparation for an oral exam, but you should talk with your dentist about your dental health and lifestyle habits before your screening. Your dentist will need to know about any family history of oral cancer, whether you use any tobacco products, if you frequently drink alcohol, or if you have frequent sunlight exposure that may increase your risk of lip cancer. Make sure you have an honest conversation with your dentist so they can understand how likely you are to have oral cancer already or be at risk of developing it.
• During – During an oral cancer screening, your dentist will closely examine the inside of your mouth. They will check for red or white patches, sores, and ulcers. After a visual check, they will feel the tissue in your mouth to check for abnormalities like lumps, and they may also feel your throat and neck. Some dentists may have you rinse your mouth with a special dye that abnormal cells absorb, which allows your dentist to see them better, or they may use a light that makes abnormal tissue in your mouth appear white.
• After – If your dentist finds anything unusual during your oral cancer screening, they may need to do some additional tests. Often, they will ask you to come in for a follow-up exam to see if the sore has improved on its own or with a treatment option that would rule out cancer as its cause. Not every mouth sore is cancerous, and a standard oral exam won’t allow your dentist to tell if a concerning-looking sore is cancerous or not. Abnormal sores may need to have a sample taken and tested for cancerous cells with a biopsy.