What You Need to Know

Each year in the US alone, approximately 34,000 individuals are newly diagnosed with oral cancer. If you add throat cancers to the number (which have the same risk factors), the number will increase to about 46,000 people. The death rate from oral cancer is very high; about half those diagnosed will survive more than 5 years. While these statistics are alarming, this high death rate is directly related to two factors. These may be influenced by your choices.

The first is to be aware. Knowing that lifestyle choices you make are causes of the disease, such as the use of tobacco and other risk factors (below), is part of that process. Approximately 75% of all oral cancer patients are tobacco users.

Early detection is the second factor that will reduce your risk. Once knowledgeable, you may wish to engage in a annual screening.

Oral cancer screening to check lip tissueSigns and Symptoms

In the early stages of oral cancer’s development, it is often painless, and the physical signs may not be obvious or evident at all. This makes it a very dangerous disease. Regular screenings by a qualified dental professional, combined with a person’s knowledge of the warning signs and symptoms, will allow its discovery in the earliest possible stages, when cure and survival are most likely. Evan pre-cancerous tissue changes can be detected by a trained professional.

Early Indicators

Oral cancer screening to check inside upper lip and gums

  1. Red and/or white discolorations of the soft tissues of the mouth.
  2. Any sore which does not heal within fourteen days.
  3. Hoarseness which lasts for a prolonged period of time.


Advanced Indicators

    1. A sensation that something is stuck in your throat.
    2. Numbness in the oral region.

Oral cancer screening to check inside lower lip and gums

  1. Difficulty in moving the jaw or tongue.
  2. Difficulty in swallowing.
  3. Ear pain which occurs on one side only.
  4. A sore under a denture, which even after adjustment of the dentures, still does not heal.
  5. A lump or thickening which develops in the mouth or on the neck.


Risk Factors You Can Control

  1. Oral cancer screening to check roof of mouth hard palateTobacco use. In all its forms, tobacco is the largest contributor to the development of oral or mouth cancers. Not using tobacco is the single most important thing you can do to avoid oral cancers.
  2. Excessive alcohol consumption. More than 15 alcoholic drinks per week may put you at greater risk. If you must drink, do so in moderation.
  3. The combined use of tobacco and alcohol. This significantly increases the risk of oral cancer more than either by itself.
  4. Excessive unprotected exposure to sun. Unprotected sun exposure will increase the likelihood of lip cancers. Use at least SPF 30 sunblock on your lips.
  5. Oral cancer screening to check tonsils and tongueLow intake of fruits and vegetables. A diet that does not contain the protective nutrients found in these foods increases the risk of developing a variety of illnesses including oral cancer.
  6. Use of betel nut and bedis. When chewed or smoked, these are causative agents of mouth cancers. Avoid their use.


Risk Factors You Cannot Control

  1. Age. Older individuals tend to develop more disease in general, including oral cancer, as their immune system becomes less efficient.
  2. Oral cancer screening to check underside of tongue and floor of mouthHPV viral infection. Increasing numbers of young, non-smoking individuals are being diagnosed with oral cancer. The most likely causative factor is HPV viral infection, the same virus responsible for more than 95% of all cervical cancer. It can also be a co-factor and facilitator in tobacco induced cancers. While testing for the virus at the time of cervical examinations and PAP smears is becoming more  common, individuals carrying this virus are not likely to know that they have it, as there are no outward symptoms. Currently there are no preventative or avoidance measures that will prevent sexual transmission of the virus. However, limiting the number of sexual partners decreases your risk of contracting the virus.Oral cancer screening to check top and side of tongue
  3. Race, ethnicity, and economics. There are socioeconomic factors that influence the development of cancers in different groups of people. For instance, African Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer 2 to 1 over other races. In addition, people who live in areas with poor access to healthcare, or for economic reasons do not routinely visit a dentist or doctor, are also at increased risk.
  4. Recurrence. Previous head and neck cancer patients have a higher risk of cancer recurrence which may occur in the mouth or other areas of the aero-digestive tract.
  5. Gender. Statistically, males get oral cancer more often than females. This is not related to biology but lifestyle issues.

The Good News: It can be found early in its development

Blue dye marks lesion area

Blue area is a lesion marked by TBlue®

At your next dental visit, in just 3 to 5 minutes, you can receive a comprehensive oral cancer examination. This exam will include a visual and tactile exploration of the interior of your mouth, as well as the underside of your chin and neck, by the doctor. Our hygienist will also use a special light and dye to aid in the discovery of suspicious tissues. We use a product called Vizilite. To find out more about Vizilite Plus yearly screenings, see below.

If the doctor suspects something abnormal, it is standard procedure to refer you to a specialist for another opinion, and perhaps a small, painless biopsy of the tissue in question. Referral for a second opinion should not alarm you, but assure you that the doctor wants to conclusively determine what any abnormality may be. Most abnormalities turn out to be benign conditions. This quick and inexpensive cancer examination will allow any serious condition to be caught at the earliest possible time, when treatments are the most effective. An oral cancer screening such as this should be conducted every year, and it is easily incorporated into your routine hygiene cleanings and exams at our office.

Vizilite Plus Cancer Screen

Squamous cell carcinoma:

Under normal light examination for oral cancer
What you see under normal light
Under Vizilite that detects abnormal areas for oral cancer screening.
What you see using ViziLite® Plus


The Vizilite Plus exam is a painless exam that your hygienist can perform in just a few minutes. Vizilite Plus uses a light source that helps to improve the examiner’s ability to detect abnormalities that may have been missed under normal lighting. Your hygienist will conduct the exam:

  1. First she will examine your mouth and look for any abnormalities in normal light.
  2. Next, you will rinse with a solution that will help your hygienist conduct the Vizilite Plus exam.
  3.  Then your hygienist will examine your mouth using the special light.
  4. If a suspicious lesion is detested, it will be marked with T-Blue, a blue dye, and documented.

After conducting the exam, most of the time your hygienist will find that everything looks completely normal. That is good news! However, there may be times when your hygienist identifies something that looks abnormal. Below are some examples of what your dentist may see using Vizilite Plus:

Vizilite used for oral cancer detection in Dr. Chernoff’s dental office.

Click here to discover what patients have experienced working with Dr. Chernoff for their dental treatments.

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Improve and maintain your oral health. Visit our dental office located in downtown Evanston, convenient to Skokie, Wilmette, and Northern Chicago suburbs. We look forward to helping you! —Dr. Arnold K. Chernoff