An oral exam is routinely performed by the surgeon during the course of an initial comprehensive exam and regular check-ups. An oral cancer exam refers to the identification and management of diseases pertaining to the maxillofacial and oral regions.
The soft tissue of the mouth is normally lined with mucosa, which is special type of skin that should appear smooth in texture and pink in color. Any alteration of the color or texture of the mucosa may signal the beginning of a pathologic process. These changes may occur on the face, neck, and areas of the mouth (e.g., gums, tongue, lips, etc.). The most serious of these pathologic changes (which may or may not be painful) is oral cancer, but there are also many other common pathologic problems.
In the majority of cases, the pathological changes experienced in the oral region are uncomfortable and disfiguring, but not life threatening. However, oral cancer is on the rise (especially among men) and the chances of survival are around 80% if an immediate diagnosis is made.
Oral cancer is a general term used when referring to any type of cancer affecting the tongue, jaw, and lower cheek area. Since it is impossible for the surgeon to decisively diagnose a pathological disease without taking a biopsy sample of the affected area, seeking immediate treatment when changes are first noticed might be a life and death decision. For less serious problems, there are several options available, such as:
Antibiotics – In the case of a bacterial infection or persistent soreness, the surgeon may prescribe a dose of antibiotics to return the mucosa to its natural state. This will alleviate soreness and discomfort.
Oral Surgery – If the patient has cysts or abnormal non-cancerous growths, the surgeon may decide to completely remove them. This can improve comfort levels, alleviate breathing problems, and make speech substantially easier depending on the location of the cyst.
During the course of a regular check up, the surgeon will thoroughly inspect the soft tissue of the mouth and take serious note of any changes. If there are cell changes present, the surgeon will take a biopsy of the affected area and send it away to be analyzed by laboratory specialists. When definitive results are obtained, the surgeon can decide on the best course of treatment.
An oral cancer screening is usually performed during a comprehensive or recall (check-up) exam. Screening is painless and only takes a few minutes. The surgeon will use a laser light to assess the soft tissue for cell changes that might be indicative of oral cancer. If such cell changes are present, a small biopsy will be taken and sent to a laboratory for review. If the biopsy indicates that oral cancer is present, an excision (removal) will generally be performed.