Zocdoc Answers

Medical questions & health advice by licensed doctors

"Can oral squamous cell carcinoma be detected early?"


How do they screen for it? Is it caused by gingivitis?


Squamous cells are the flat cells that line your oral cavity and oropharynx. They are similar to the cells that make up your skin, except that skin cells are keratinizing. Normal cells undergo small mutations/changes during the cell cycle (how cells replicate).

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Normally your immune system is able to detect these changes and terminate the cells before they multiply. Some people have a genetic predisposition for mutations to occur, and also there are many carcinogenic agents (particularly smoking and drinking for oral squamous cell carcinoma) that make these "changes" or the bodies ability to detect and terminate them less desirable. So, simply put, oral squamous cell carcinoma (SCCa) is when the lining of your mouth/throat has undergone changes such that it no longer behaves as cells within normal tissues should. There is no laboratory or blood test that is routinely used as surveillance as a screening exam for oral SCCa. However, your dentist should be performing a thorough oral exam every time that you get a cleaning. If there are any suspicious ulcers/lesions, painful masses, or non healing wounds, or any other problem in your mouth or throat, I would recommend setting up a consultation with an otolaryngologist (ENT) to be examined. As far as I know, there is no direct correlation between gingivitis and the formation of oral SCCa, however SCCa is found in the setting of chronic inflammation at times, which makes a strong argument for taking care of the gingivitis sooner rather than later. I hope this helps.

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