Around 40,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer each year, and 8,000 will die as a result of oral cancer, according to statistics provided by Las Vegas dentist Dr. Sarika Ananad, DDS and Boston Dental Group manager Bridgit Fly in the daily news show “The Morning Blend”. Early detection is crucial for successful treatment because as Dr Anand explains in the video clip below, 80-90% of people who are diagnosed in the early stages of the disease will survive.
This is one reason why it’s so important people visit the dentist at least twice a year to receive an oral cancer screening. Current screening methods include feeling for lumps in your jaw and neck, plus looking inside your mouth for any sores or tissue discoloration. These methods, however, sometimes don’t catch tumors early enough for them to be easily treated, especially if you don’t see the dentist regularly.
Image by Conor Lawless
New research being done at the University of Notre Dame’s Harper Cancer Research Institute looks to change this by making early diagnosis easier. The researchers hope that by developing a more reliable and objective diagnostic test, they will be able to save lives by enabling more oral cancers to be detected in the early stages when treatment is much more likely to be successful.
If successful, this new screening method will allow dentists to take a small sample of cells from your mouth and use a microfluidic membrane sensor to detect the presence of any cancerous cells. This sensor will be able to examine the RNA of the collected cells , allowing for the detection of any abnormalities long before they can be detected by current diagnostic methods.
Image by Morgan
Of course, for this or any other new screening method to be made widely available it must be cost-effective, fast, and easy for both the patient and the dentist. While the new screening method being developed at Notre Dame is not quite as accurate as the optical sensors currently in use in many dentists’ offices, it has the advantage of being much cheaper: $1 compared to $45, which would make oral cancer screening much more accessible as well as much more effective.
Until this technology becomes available, however, Las Vegas dentists at Boston Dental Group are relying on the Velscope; a cancer-screening machine that discovers soft tissue abnormalities using a florescent blue light. The entire process is painless and quick – under three minutes – and although it does result in the occassional false positive, the Velscope is one of the most accurate cancer screen tools on the market today.