For over a year we have been using new technologies to detect oral cancer. What amazed us as we jumped into the new technology was that oral cancer survival rates had very little improvement over the past decades. While breast cancer, cervical cancer, and prostate cancer survival has been dramatically decreasing oral cancer is stagnant. I attribute this to one thing. Early detection tools and exams are not a mainstream part of our health culture. Yet. I say yet, because at our office new technology has allowed us the opportunity to be at the forefront of early detection of oral cancers.
What can you do at home to help prevent oral cancer and many other cancers at that?
This has become one of my passions. Connecting the dentist to your physician and basic overall health is not a stretch anymore, it is a reality. Oral cancer detection at our office has always started out with a thorough visual or white light exam. Many of you reading are currently seeing a dentist on a regular or semi regular basis.
An important part of improving your survival rate for oral cancer is simply ask your dentist to perform an examination of your lips, tongue, and cheeks for detection of any abnormalities that might lead to oral cancer.
As most know by now, smoking and drinking are your biggest risk factors for oral cancer and many other cancers for that matter. However, the face of oral cancer is changing. More and more a strong link is being drawn to HPV or human papilloma virus as a major marker in patients with oral cancers. The sad truth is almost 70% of the population is walking around as a carrier for HPV. Following this news makes a high percentage of the population a higher risk for oral cancers than previously thought.
In my office I have been lucky enough to train under my dad who started the oral biology program at University of Illinois at Chicago Dental school. There he taught oral pathology for many years. With this background our office jumped headfirst into the technologies that we believe will save lives through even earlier detection. We first used a system called vizilite to as a screening for early detection of oral cancer. The system included a vinegar based solution as a pre-rinse. The taste was a little off putting and so was the price. With the flourecence and rinse solution we had to charge $69 for the screening exam. Most patients were unable to get the enhanced cancer exam due to cost. We quickly embraced the newer velscope technology that included less disposables. Our strong belief in the system and its possible life saving technology we are now able to screen most of our patients once per year for $26. This has become a true win for our patients that are now able to get similar early detection technology, affordably.
I dread the exam for fear of what I one day may find. But I know that the thorough systematic approach we take during our cancer exams will one day help to save a life through earlier detection.
I dug up some scary facts about oral cancer, in part to remind myself and others of the importance of performing and asking for thorough exams of the oral tissues.
Approximately 30,000 cases in the United States and more than 400,000 cases worldwide will be diagnosed in 2007, making oral cancer the sixth most common malignancy in the world. Together I hope to catch more cases in those early stages, which are more easily treatable.
Dr. Sam Weisz d.d.s