Oral cancer is perhaps the most significant disease to look for in an examination — both because it can be life-threatening, and because early detection is proven to increase the survival rate. But it’s important to remember that a large majority of unusual growths are found to be benign. Some other oral diseases that may be screened for include:
- Fibroma, a thickened mass that may feel like a lump in the lining of the mouth.
- Leukoplakia, a condition that causes white patches to form inside the mouth. While usually benign, the lesions may be precancerous and are often biopsied.
- Lichen Planus, an inflammatory disease that sometimes causes discomfort.
- Mucous Membrane Pemphigoid, an autoimmune disease that may cause oral lesions, but is not life-threatening.
- “Pregnancy Tumors,” benign red swellings that may form on gum tissue of pregnant women due to hormonal changes.
In addition, some systemic diseases (such as diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and heart disease) may produce effects that can be observed in the mouth. We are always on the lookout for signs of these potentially serious conditions.
When a Biopsy Is Needed
Although the majority of oral lesions are benign, if there is any possibility that the growth could be cancerous or pre-cancerous, it’s likely that a biopsy will be performed. Depending on how much tissue needs to be removed, this may be a simple in-office procedure, or it may be done in a hospital setting. Typically, the procedure requires only local anesthesia, and it doesn’t take long. If incisions are made, they are often closed with self-dissolving sutures (stitches) that don’t need to be removed.
Because the oral tissues are rich in blood vessels, some bleeding is normal for a period of time afterward. You will be given follow-up instructions as needed, including how to manage swelling and discomfort, when to take medication, and what to eat and drink. Getting some rest and maintaining good oral hygiene will also help you get back to normal as quickly as possible. When the pathology report is complete (usually in a few days), you will be given the results.