Detecting Oral Cancer

Detecting Oral Cancer

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April is “Oral Cancer Awareness Month” and a few days ago I came across a article in The Costco Connection April, 2017  (page 79) written by Joana Breckner that I would like to pass on and encourage you to read.

The article truly brings to our attention how important annual comprehensive oral cancer screening is a must in our lives.  In my practice I have always provided oral cancer screening to my patients and since 2009 I have incorporated the VELscope System to assist in detecting potential problems earlier. VELscope, utilizes a narrow band of safe, high-energy blue light and specialized filtering technology to help thoroughly evaluate the oral tissue for abnormal areas of concern, such as potentially cancerous lesions that may not be evident under white light.

For more information regarding oral cancer screening please feel free to give us a call at 312-951-5230 or email us.


Detecting Oral Cancer The Costco Connection

By Joana Breckner

A ROUTINE dentist visit saved my life

I am a four-year survivor of oral cancer. I am married, 47 years old and the mother of two girls, ages 10 and 12. I am not a smoker or drinker, and have been in good health my entire life.

In 2000, during a teeth cleaning, my dentist discovered precancerous white spots on my tongue. The biopsy was benign, but for the next seven years I was monitored by my dentist and doctor. My first tumor, small and contained, was removed in 2007.

Four years later, my cancer returned. I underwent a 10-hour surgery removing half my tongue, which was rebuilt with grafts from my forearm, followed up by radiation and chemotherapy. A year later cancer reoccurred on my jugular vein. More surgery, more chemotherapy, more radiation.

Four years later, my story has a happy ending, and by sharing it I hope to raise awareness of oral cancer and screenings.

Traditionally, individuals with the highest risk of developing oral cancer have been those who smoke, use tobacco or drink alcohol heavily, but exposure to the human papillomavirus (HPV) is now a significant factor. The fastest-growing oral cancer population is young nonsmokers with HPV.

Currently there is no national program for oral cancer screenings. The American Dental Association states that “just doing ‘opportunistic’ cancer screenings … would yield tens of thousands of opportunities to catch oral cancer in its early stages.” According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, when oral cancer is found at early stages of development, patients have an 80 to 90 percent survival rate.

Here are easy, potentially lifesaving steps to take charge of your oral health.

  • Be sure your dentist or qualified hygienist “cleans and screens” at every routine visit. This visual and manual screening takes less than five minutes.
  • There is a strong link between HPV and oral cancer. Ask your children’s pediatrician and dentist for more information about the HPV vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends boys and girls receive the HPV vaccination at age 11 or 12.
  • If a sore throat or swallowing problems persist for more than two weeks, contact your doctor.

I am alive because of early detection and lifesaving surgeries and treatments. My quality of life is excellent, and I am able to eat, drink, taste and live pain-free. A scar running from my lip to my chin and a slight speech impediment remind me of cancer every day. Like many survivors, I am searching for my new normal. However, I am alive, loving life and grateful—especially for my conscientious dentist. C

Costco member Joana Breckner is a cancer advocate and professional organizer.


Oral cancer frequently has no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, the most common include:

  • A sore or ulcer on the lip or in the mouth that does not heal.
  • A lump on the lip, in the mouth or in the neck.
  • A white or red patch on the gums, tongue or lining of the mouth.
  • Unusual bleeding, pain or numbness in the mouth.
  • Oral pain that does not go away.
  • Difficulty or pain with chewing, swallowing or jaw opening.
  • Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable.
  • Tooth loosening.
  • Sensory loss in the face.
  • Abnormal taste in the mouth.
  • Tongue problems.