Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. It’s also among the most preventable and curable when caught early. And, since May is Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection & Prevention Month, we want to clue you in on just how critical a partner your dentist is when it comes to detecting this form of cancer.
What is melanoma?
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer, and one of the most serious. Researchers are not certain as to its causes, but according to studies completed at the University of Minnesota, repeated exposure to the sun is considered to be a “commonly associated factor.” That said, even though melanoma is understood in layman’s terms to be a “skin” cancer, we can’t always prevent it by applying sunscreen. Biologically speaking, melanoma can manifest anywhere melanocytes exist, whether that’s in our skin, mouth, heart, or other tissues. It’s precisely for this reason that maintaining regular visits to your dentist can literally save your life.
How does the dentist help and what are the symptoms?
As with any cancer, early detection is key, and a regular visit to your dentist who can see more areas of your mouth at closer range than you possibly could is your best course of action. There are signs and symptoms, however, that should elicit concern if you experience them: if you have a frequent sore throat, difficulty chewing and swallowing, and red or whitish patches within your mouth, you should see you doctor. Likewise, changes in the color, shape or size of skin pigmentation should prompt a visit to the doctor, as well as if you notice any new pigmentation on your face, head or neck.
How often do I have to have my mouth checked for this?
At every appointment your dentist should be reviewing your mouth and neck to look for any abnormalities or changes in tissue. This exam takes place without you even being aware it’s happening, but if you’re ever curious, just ask your dentist to walk you through it during your next appointment. Due to their ability to detect cancerous lesions early, an oral cancer screening can literally save your life. Your dentist may also offer additional screening opportunities using special medical screening devices that further aid in early detection by illuminating the tissue within your mouth with a special light. Ask if your doctor has such a device in their office, or can recommend you to a physician who does.
It’s worth repeating.
Your teeth aren’t the only things in your mouth worth protecting. So be sure to visit your dentist regularly for an oral health screening. Your dentist plays a critical role in the early detection and treatment of oral cancer concerns. Get that checkup!