There is an exciting new test being rolled out in dentist’s offices that will hopefully have a huge impact on mouth cancer, something that hits around 30,000 Americans each year, believe it or not. It’s a simple light test that can detect cancer very early on. Mouth cancer is not easily picked up in the early stages.
By the time it does appear, it’s often spread. This screening test may increase the survival rate to as much as 90 percent. All you have to do is go for your regular dental checkup. Shirley Shuman does just that. “I go to the dentist every 3 months for a cleaning, an examanation and so far it has been OK.”
While you don’t typically think of a visit to the dentist as a cancer screening opportunity--it is. But that exam has been far from perfect, until now. The new Velscope, recently cleared by the FDA, is an easy, noninvasive way to detect early on oral, or mouth cancers, before they get to the advanced stage. And it does it using what appears to be a fancy flashlight.
“The way that velescope works is by a procedure known as autoflourscents. Every tissue in the mouth and everywhere body absorbs a certain amount of light and reflects a certain amount of light back at you. The light that is reflected back at you , is the color that we actually perceive,” says Dr. Robert Convissar, a Manhattan-based cosmetic and laser dentist.
Normal tissue reflects back green. Abnormal tissue hidden in the deep layers which may be cancerous shows up brown to black. “The good news is that most lesions found in patients mouths are benign. So the fact that we find something doesn’t mean that somebody necessairly has cancer,” states Dr. Convissar. And if a cancer is suspected, a quick biopsy can be done.
Dr. Convissar says every patient should be screened with this. Yes, oral cancer is often associated with smoking. Just like HPV causes cervical cancer, there is now a recognized association with mouth cancer also. So many nonsmokers are getting this, even those in their 20’s to 40’s who are sexually active.
“If oral cancer is caught early, we have a survival rate of 80 to 90. Every dentist should have this. This should be the standard of care,” believes Dr. Convissar. Shirley, who used to be a smoker, which puts her at risk for mouth cancer, is thankful this test is now available. “Well it seemed to be thorough and painless,” she reports. And that’s a pleasurable trip to the dentist.