Educating Patients about Oral Cancer

EducatePatientsEva: Do you get an oral cancer screening?
Friend: I don’t know. What is it exactly?
Eva: They pull your tongue out with a gauze until it’s uncomfortable so they can see the back borders of your tongue. Does your dentist or hygienist do that?
Friend: Um, I’m not sure.
Eva: Do they palpate your neck for lymph nodes?
Friend: I’m pretty sure they don’t feel my neck.
Eva: What about checking inside your cheeks and lips?
Friend: I’m supposed to be getting all this at my dental check-up?
Eva: It’s supposed to be part of every healthy check-up, at least once a year.
Friend: I’m seeing my dentist next month. Give me that Six-step card, I’m going to bring it in and ask for one….and tell them that I know you!

This is a typical conversation I have with new people I meet. Whose responsibility is it to educate patients about oral cancer? Your dental professionals! If they are doing a screening, they should know these core concepts and educate you. Some say they don’t want to scare the patient and use the word, ‘cancer.’ But, with that philosophy, we will NEVER catch this disease in it’s early stages. If you get a persistent mouth sore the week after your dental appointment, and you don’t return for a year, it may be too late to catch it early. If you have a sore throat for no obvious reason, and you don’t know that it could be a sign of oral cancer, it won’t be caught early.

If you dentist doesn’t use ‘the words,’ you should use them.
Patient: I want to be sure I’m getting an oral cancer screening today at my appointment.
Dentist or Hygienist: We will be sure to let you know when we do the screening.
Patient: What are you looking for when you do that? Do you mind if I ask a few questions?
Dentist or Hygienist: We are looking for oral tissue that has changed color or texture, asymmetry at the back of your throat, a lump in your neck that isn’t tender.
Patient: Thanks for sharing. If I notice anything like that between now and my next visit, I’ll be sure to schedule another appointment.

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