Oral cancer is a very common type of cancer. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, about 45,750 Americans will be diagnosed with some type of oral or pharyngeal cancer this year. Oral cancer kills one American every hour. Fortunately, your dentist can help you identify oral cancer in its early stages. Dentists have many diagnostic tools at their disposal, such as fine-needle aspiration biopsies. Here are three things you need to know about these tests.
When are these tests required?
Fine-needle aspiration biopsies are fast and minimally invasive, which makes them a good screening tool for oral cancer. These tests are performed when suspicious lesions are discovered inside the mouth. These lesions may be sores that don't heal, lumps or thickened areas of tissue, white or red patches, or any other suspicious patches of tissue that concern your dentist.
Many types of cancerous and non-cancerous lesions look very similar, even to dentists, so your dentist may not be able to identify your lesions with a visual inspection alone. To help diagnose the lesion, your dentist may recommend a fine-needle aspiration biopsy.
How are they performed?
This test is fairly simple and can be completed in your dentist's office. Your dentist will insert a thin, hollow needle into the lesion and draw out a sample of the tissue. Both fluid and solid pieces of the lesion will be removed for examination. Since the needle is very thin, you won't feel much pain from this procedure.
The samples will then be examined under a microscope for signs of cancer cells. This process doesn't take long, so you may get the results the same day as your test.
What happens if cancer is found?
If the fine-needle aspiration biopsy finds cancer cells, treatment can start. Treatment may be handled by your dentist, an oral surgeon, or an oncologist, depending on the type of cancer you have and where it's located.
The main treatment for oral cancer is surgery. Your cancer will be carefully excised, and to make sure that it's all gone, a margin of healthy tissue from around the cancer will also be removed. This may be the only treatment you need, but some people also need chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
If you discover a lesion inside your mouth, make sure to tell your dentist. Your dentist can perform tests such as fine-needle aspiration biopsies to find out if the lesion is cancerous.
For more information, contact Scott Brenner, DDS or a similar dental professional.