Healthwatch: Detecting Oral Cancer


Julia Reddersen is going for her routine dental checkup which includes and oral cancer screening. Several decades ago, about one out of six people diagnosed with oral cancer was female. Today, the statistic is a startling one out of three.

The increase of oral cancer among women may be the result of more women smoking in the past thirty years.

"There was a little white spot, maybe about a quarter of an inch wide, not very thick, down below my gum," Reddersen said.

"Sure enough, she had a small lesion, probably about a quarter of an inch in diameter on the floor of her mouth, just under her tongue," said Dr. Kevin Doring, Julia's dentist. "So we recommended, just to be on the safe side, let's take a brush biopsy, very non-invasive procedure. And we would find out if there was anything abnormal about this lesion that would cause any concern."

While those at risk of oral cancer are typically males over 40 with a history of alcohol and tobacco use, now doctors are seeing an increase in women and younger people, those traditionally considered at low risk.

"A few days later, the results came back and said that there were some atypical cells, pre-cancerous," Doring said. "We surgically removed the lesion, as well as any healthy tissue around it to make sure we got all of it. And after a couple of days of healing the sutures, everything was fine."

"The brush biopsy is a painless, simple procedure," Reddersen said.

Like all cancers, the earlier you find oral cancer, the more easily it is to treat. If you wait too long, the overall survival rate is 50 percent.

"If you notice a lesion in your mouth and you haven't seen it before, if it hasn't gone away or resolved itself in two to three weeks, definitely have it looked at by a dental professional to evaluate. It's better to be safe than sorry," said Doring.

Early detection is certainly the key to saving lives.

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