Dental professionals spend a significant amount of time with patients and typically see them at least twice per year for routine prophylaxis. Frequent visits provide the opportunity to be on the lookout for oral cancer inside and outside of the mouth since most people spend more time with their dental team than their primary care doctor, and many never visit a dermatologist. Examinations should consist of looking and feeling for abnormalities such as flat discolored surfaces, moles, freckles, lumps or bumps inside the mouth, and any exposed skin in the head and neck region.
The American Academy of Dermatology and The Skin Cancer Foundation have guidelines for recognizing a suspicious spot. The ABC’s of skin cancer are A- Asymmetry, B- Border, and C- Color. Asymmetry is determined by imagining or drawing a line through the middle of the surface. If the two halves don’t match or aren’t symmetrical, it may be cancerous. Border refers to the edges of the area. Cancerous lesions tend to have uneven borders. Color specifies the color of the area. If an area has a variety of colors or the color has changed since their last visit, it may be of concern.
Make it a priority to look for suspicious areas, and take note of shape, borders, size, elevation, and color. Speak to the patient about these areas of concern and ask about them each visit. Pay attention to any changes such as increased growth, bleeding, itching, color change, border change, or asymmetry. Pictures are also helpful. Refer the patient to a dermatologist or oral surgeon depending on where the surface is located if anything looks suspicious. Taking a little extra time to examine the patient from the neck up is extremely important and can definitely save a life.