Oral Cancer Screening
Screening for oral cancer is an important role of the overall oral health program we provide at North Seattle Dental. While we routinely look for signs of cancer or precancerous conditions in your mouth, we also offer the VELscope oral cancer examination, which can help screen for early signs of oral cancer.
It is simple, easy, and noninvasive. The VELscope (Visually Enhanced Lesion Scope) is a hand held device that emits blue light into the mouth that excites various molecules within our cells, causing them to absorb the light energy and re-emit it as visible fluorescence.
Changes in healthy tissue fluorescence can be indicative of developing tumor cells. If an area is observed and is suspicious, we request an early biopsy and standard pathology tests. Early screening, diagnosis, and treatment planning for oral cancer will save lives. We recommend this simple test every six months.
Oral cancer kills one person every hour, 24 hours a day in the United States. Over 36,000 individuals will diagnosed with oral cancer this year, only slightly more than half will be alive in 5 years. This is a number which has not significantly improved in decades. The death rate associated with this cancer is particularly high not because it is hard to discover or diagnose, but due to the cancer being routinely discovered late in its development.
Traditional examination for oral cancer by a clinician detects visible changes on the tissue surface. Unfortunately, the cellular changes that lead to oral cancer actually start below the surface at the basal membrane. Often it is only discovered when the cancer has metastasized to another location, most likely the lymph nodes of the neck. Prognosis at this stage of discovery is significantly worse than when it is caught in a localized intra oral area. Besides the metastasis, at these later stages, the primary tumor has had time to invade deep into local structures.
If caught early, 90% of oral cancer cases are curable. Early identification of potentially malignant lesions and accurate identification by biopsy are significant factors in decreasing patient morbidity and mortality.
In the past three decades there has been a 60% increase in oral cancer in adults under the age of 40. Risk factors include tobacco use, frequent alcohol consumption, a ompromised immune system, a past history of cancer, and the presence of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).
Because there are so many benign tissue changes that occur normally in your mouth, and some things as simple as a bite on the inside of your cheek may mimic the look of a dangerous tissue change, it is important to have any sore or discolored area of your mouth, which does not heal within 14 days, looked at by a professional.
Staying mindful of oral cancer, its symptoms and regularly screening for it are all important steps to improving the survival rates from this disease with early detection.