Did you know that you can conduct an at home oral cancer screening every day? Of course this does not substitute regular comprehensive visits to your dentist; however, each night in addition to brushing and flossing your teeth, you can extend your nightly ritual for just a few minutes which may save your life.
Cancer screening? How do I do that?
An oral cancer examination at home is relatively simple. The bottomline is we are looking for lumps and bumps, color changes in the mouth and sores that do not heal. Remember to follow the rules of two: any sore or ulcer in your mouth that does not heal after two weeks should be evaluated by your dentist.
Let's start with outside of your mouth also known as the extraoral sites.
1. Jaw Muscles and Face
Examine your face and look for any asymmetries or irregularities. When looking at your skin, don't forget to check for your ABCD's:
Asymmetry of a spot
Borders - irregular or jagged borders should be evaluated further
Diameter greater than a pencil eraser approximately 6 mm
Any of the ABCD's should be brought to the attention of a healthcare professional. Then, start with palpating the muscles that overly your jaw. Continue to palpate behind your ears as well as underneath your chin.
Turn your head to one side and feel the muscle that becomes pronounced known as the sternocleidomastoid. Do the same on the other side. The link attached shows a good picture of this muscle and how to examine it. Once again you are feeling for lumps and bumps. Make sure to use both hands and palpate your neck on both sides of your thyroid and further outward. Also, swallow and note if your adam's apple (thyroid cartilage) moves up and down.
Moving inside...the intraoral spots
Look at the symmetry of your lips and palpate and feel for the texture of your upper and lower lips. Also notice and look for color irregularities.
Examine your gums. Note any discolorations, spots or sores.
Examine the sides of your tongue. Stick your tongue out and examine as far back as you can. Additionally, palpate the floor of your mouth with one hand in your mouth and the other outside.
Pull your lips back and examine your cheeks.
Don't forget to examine the roof of your mouth for any bumps, sores or areas of discoloration.
Where are the high risk spots?
For the most part, the high risks spots for oral cancer are the back of the tongue (base of tongue), sides of the tongue (lateral border), floor of the mouth, soft palate and throat, tonsils and ventral surface of the tongue.
So what's the bottomline?
If you notice any lumps or bumps, discolorations, ulcers, sores or changes in your mouth, it is recommended that you visit your dentist for a comprehensive evaluation.
Please note this is just an overview and does not represent, replace or constitute medical advice. If you have questions about a finding in your mouth, it is recommended that you visit your dentist. An at home self-exam does not replace a comprehensive examination by your dentist.