Some screening tests are used because they have been shown to be helpful both in finding cancers early and in decreasing the chance of dying from these cancers. Other tests are used because they have been shown to find cancer in some people; however, it has not been proven in clinical trials that use of these tests will decrease the risk of dying from cancer.
Scientists study screening tests to find those with the fewest risks and most benefits. Cancer screening trials also are meant to show whether early detection (finding cancer before it causes symptoms) decreases a person’s chance of dying from the disease. For some types of cancer, the chance of recovery is better if the disease is found and treated at an early stage.
Clinical trials that study cancer screening methods are taking place in many parts of the country. Information about ongoing clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
There is no standard or routine screening test for oral cancer.
Screening for oral cancer may be done during a routine check-up by a dentist or doctor. The exam will include looking for lesions, including areas of leukoplakia (an abnormal white patch of cells) and erythroplakia (an abnormal red patch of cells). Leukoplakia and erythroplakia lesions on the mucous membranes may become cancerous. Higher-risk areas of the mouth that are checked for cancer include the following:
If lesions are seen in the mouth, the following procedures may be used to find abnormal tissue that might develop into oral cancer:
Early-stage oral cancer can be cured, but most oral cancers have already spread to lymph nodes or other areas by the time they are found. No studies have been done to find out if screening would decrease the risk of dying from this disease.