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Can I Get Checked for Oral Cancer Before I Have Symptoms?

Oral cancer may be easier to treat if it is found early. Screening tests can identify the disease even before you have symptoms. For oral cancer, the process is simple. Your dentist looks in your mouth for early signs of cancer.

Dentists Look for Cancer

The American Cancer Society recommends that your dentist or primary care doctor check your mouth and throat as part of a routine checkup.

If you have regular dental checkups, then you are already being screened for oral cancer. During a dental exam, the dentist inspects the mouth and tongue for small sores or painless, white or red patches. 

Aging and Other Risk Factors

Most cases of oral cancer develop after age 45. So it is vital to get regular dental exams as you get older. Your dentist can help keep your smile healthy—and screen for early signs of oral cancer. Be sure to tell your dentist if you notice any swelling, sores, or discoloring around your mouth, lips, or throat.

Other risk factors for oral cancer include: 

  • The use of tobacco products

  • Drinking a lot of alcohol

  • Being a man

  • Sun exposure (for lip cancer)

If you are at high risk for oral cancer, you may want to check for signs of the disease once a month—in addition to getting a regular dental exam. To conduct a self-exam, use a mirror to check for any unusual patches or sores in the mouth or throat. 

“Oral Cancer Screening. Patient Version.” National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, May 17, 2012. Accessed 2013.

“Oral Cancer.” Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. Accessed 2013.

“Oral Cancer.” American Cancer Society. 2007. Accessed 2013.

“Adults 40-60: Concerns.” American Dental Association. Accessed 2013.

“Adults Over 60: Concerns.” Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. Accessed 2013.

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