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Oral Cancer, From Stage 0 to IV

Posted by Hyungsup Lee Feb 08, 2023

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When you see your dentist for a checkup or cleaning, they will usually also perform an oral cancer screening. This is vitally important, as catching cancer early is the best thing you can do to improve your chances of treating it effectively.

That’s because oral cancer is degenerative, meaning that it gets worse over time if left untreated. That progression happens in stages, with each stage becoming more serious than the last. If you want to learn a little more about how cancer progresses, here’s a guide to each of these stages, from 0 to IV.

Stage 0

This is also known as a carcinoma in situ, and technically it isn’t cancer yet. This refers to cells that are in the lining of the lips or cheeks that look like they have the potential to become cancerous down the line.

Stage I

This is the earliest stage of oral cancer. A tumor may have formed, but it shouldn’t be any larger than 2 centimeters. At this point, the cancer hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage II

Like stage I, this cancer has not yet spread to the lymph nodes and is isolated to a relatively small tumor. This tumor should be between 2 and 4 centimeters large.

Stage III

At stage III, at least one of two things has happened. The first is that the tumor that developed in stages I & II grows to be over 4 centimeters long, and the second is that the cancer spreads to at least one lymph node in the neck. Meeting either of these criteria is sufficient to be stage III.

Stage IV

Stage IV of oral cancer is defined not by the size of the tumor, but by how far the cancer has spread. If oral cancer has reached nearby tissue in the mouth or jaw, or if it has moved to more distant parts of the body, that qualifies it as stage IV.

Stage IV oral cancer can also take hold in the lymph nodes. If cancer has developed in a lymph node over 3cm large on the same side of the neck as the tumor, it is categorized in this stage. This is equally the case if cancer is found in multiple lymph nodes, or a least one lymph node on the side opposite the tumor.

About the Author

Dr. Russ Teasdale opened his dentist’s office in 1981, and since then he has remained committed to providing the greatest care that dentistry has to offer, tailored personally to his individual patients. While the techniques he uses have changed over time, he’s remained committed to putting his patients at the center of everything he does. Dr. Teasdale earned his DMD from Washington University in St. Louis.

If you have any questions about oral cancer, we can be reached at our website or by phone at (503) 966-2528.

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