If you take five minutes during an oral exam to check a patient for oral cancer, you could save a life.
In 2021, some 53,000 Americans were diagnosed with oral cancer, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. This number has steadily risen over the last decade, and the COVID-19 pandemic has raised the risk even more.
A study in the Journal of the American Dental Association found that tobacco and alcohol use has risen during the pandemic. Weight gain, poor diet and oral hygiene and a lack of treatment over the past two years have also increased the risk.
If you aren’t already screening your patients, now’s a good time to start. As with most cancers, early detection is a key to survival. If oral cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, the five-year survival rate is 85%.
Oral cancer can include cancers in the gums, tongue and back of the throat. It occurs most often in people over the age of 40. Risk factors for oral cancer include tobacco and alcohol use, prolonged exposure to the sun and infection with certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV). More men than women are diagnosed with it.
The best way to diagnose oral cancer is by performing a quick but thorough screening as part of a patient’s regular exam. Look for:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends checking the following areas of the mouth for signs of cancer:
Conducting these exams not only saves lives, but it can also help protect you against malpractice. Patients will appreciate the extra care you take. Take the five minutes. Your patients will thank you.