Screening for cancer is examination (or testing) of people for early stages in the development of cancer even though they have no symptoms. Scientists have studied patterns of cancer in the population to learn which people are more likely to get certain types of cancer. They have also studied what things around us and what things we do in our lives may cause cancer. This information sometimes helps doctors recommend who should be screened for certain types of cancer, what types of screening tests people should have, and how often these tests should be done. Not all screening tests are helpful, and most have risks such as bleeding or infection due to a biopsy for an abnormal screening test. For this reason, scientists at the National Cancer Institute are studying many screening tests to find out how useful they are and to determine the relative benefits and harms.
If your doctor suggests certain cancer screening tests as part of your health care plan, this does not mean he or she thinks you have cancer. Screening tests are done when you have no symptoms. Since decisions about screening can be difficult, you may want to discuss them with your doctor and ask questions about the potential benefits and risks of screening tests and whether they have been proven to decrease the risk of dying from cancer.
If your doctor suspects that you may have cancer, he or she will order certain tests to see whether you do. These are called diagnostic tests. Some tests are used for diagnostic purposes, but are not suitable for screening people who have no symptoms.
The purposes of this summary on oral cancer screening are to:
You can talk to your doctor or health care professional about cancer screening and whether it would be likely to help you.
Oral cancer may develop in any of the following areas:
Salivary glands are located throughout the oral cavity and oropharynx.
This summary will describe the risk factors and screening tests associated with oral cancer.
The number of new cases of oral cancer, as well as the number of deaths from oral cancer, has been decreasing.
Anything that increases a person’s chance of developing a disease is called a risk factor. Some of these risk factors for oral cancer are as follows:
Sex: Men have a slightly higher risk of developing oral cancer than women.
Race: The risk of developing oral cancer is higher in blacks than in whites.
Age: The risk of developing oral cancer increases after age 45 years.
Tobacco and Alcohol Use: The use of tobacco (including smokeless tobacco) and alcohol increases the risk of developing oral cancer.
HPV Infection: Infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) increases the risk of developing cancer of the oropharynx.
Screening for oral cancer may be done during a physical examination by the dentist or doctor. High-risk areas of the mouth that can be checked for early detection are the floor of the mouth, the front and sides of the tongue, and the soft palate. The exam will include looking for lesions on the mucous membranes, including leukoplakia (white patches) and erythroplakia (red patches). Oral cancer sometimes develops in areas with these lesions. It is not known, however, if screening decreases the risk of dying from oral cancer. Early-stage oral cancer can be cured, but most oral cancers have spread by the time they are found.
For more information, U.S. residents may call the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Deaf and hard-of-hearing callers with TTY equipment may call 1-800-332-8615. The call is free and a trained Cancer Information Specialist is available to answer your questions.
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A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether a method of finding cancer earlier can help people to live longer. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients and those who are at risk for cancer. During screening clinical trials, information is collected about the effects of a new screening method and how well it works. If a clinical trial shows that a new method is better than one currently being used, the new method may become "standard." People who are at high risk for a certain type of cancer may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.
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