A simple test at the dentist's office could save your life. One American dies every hour from oral cancer. Now, there's a new product that's already saving lives in Tulsa by identifying those cancers and even precancers. News On 6 anchor Jennifer Loren reports the test comes at a time when we're learning about more possible causes of oral cancer.
It's not a pretty picture, cancer. And, if you look closely at pictures from inside people's mouths you can see tiny white cancerous cells. But, finding those small spots has never been easy.
"Early intervention is the key in all cancers," said Dr. Craig Dudley, a Tulsa dentist.
Dr. Craig Dudley has examined thousands of mouths over the last 30 years, but lately he's been finding more abnormalities than ever before.
"But now, we have a little stronger tool to say really this particular area needs to be biopsied, removed and evaluated microscopically," said Dr. Dudley.
Dr. Dudley has a new cancer-hunting tool that makes screening for spots much easier and more effective. That tool is uses glowstick technology.
82-year old Ellis Gibson is a patient of Dr. Dudley's. Gib was kind enough to let us watch as Dr. Dudley uses the new technology to explore the inside of his mouth for any possible cancerous cells.
First, Gib is placed in a dark room. Then, he swishes with a blue rinse for about a minute. After that, the glowstick is used to check for cancers.
"Under the wavelength of the glowstick light we can see areas that we wouldn't be able to see with our eyes under normal lighting," said Dr. Dudley.
Any abnormal tissue will reflect the light from the glowstick and appear as white spots. Normal tissue simply absorbs the light.
So, who should undergo this type of screening?
People at the highest risk are patients age 40 and older who use tobacco products or have at least three alcoholic drinks per week and patients with a family history of oral cancer. Anyone age 40 and older is said to be at high risk along with people, of any age, who use tobacco.
On the low end of the scale, but still at an increased risk of developing oral cancer, patients age 18 to 39 who are sexually active.
As oral cancer research evolves, scientists are discovering previously unknown causes of the disease. Several new studies now show the sexually transmitted disease HPV causes it. Another study says prolonged use of a cell phone will give you oral cancer.
Those are risk factors your dentist probably doesn't have in his file. So, it's really up to you to know your risk.
Oral cancer is one of the most treatable kinds of cancer. If you catch it early, treatment is 90% successful.
By the way, Dr. Dudley charges about $35 for the FDA-approved glowstick screening. He says most insurance companies haven't picked it up yet.