Oral cancer accounts for 2.9% of all diagnosed cases of cancer in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society it is estimated that 51,000 people across the country will develop oral cancer this year and that 10,000 fatalities are expected from the disease.
Oral cancer can occur anywhere in the orofacial complex but is most often found on the tongue, the tonsils and oropharynx, the gums, floor of the mouth, lips, cheek lining or the hard palate. While the disease can affect anyone, men are twice as likely to develop oral cancer as women. Those particularly at risk for oral cancer are men over the age of 50 who are heavy smokers and frequently drink alcohol. Additional risk factors may include UV exposure from the sun or sunlamps, GERD (gastro-intestinal reflux disease, prior head and neck radiation treatment, exposure to certain chemicals and poor diet. While the death rate from oral cancer has been decreasing in the past several decades thanks to early detection and advanced methods of treatment improving the outcomes of care, there has been a recent rise in the incidence of oropharyngeal cancer due to increased transmission of the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV).
As part of a comprehensive exam, the dentist will perform a screening for oral cancer. To start, the dentist will review the patient’s medical and dental histories and ask if there have been any changes to his or her oral health or overall health. The dentist will then carefully check in and around the oral cavity as well as the head and neck area for any of the following signs or symptoms that may indicate the presence of a problem.
The VELscope® is an advanced oral assessment technology system that offers clinicians the ability to visualize oral tissue abnormalities that may indicate the presence of oral cancer or pre-malignant dysplasia. A VELscope evaluation is quick, painless, and can be easily incorporated into an oral cancer screening visit.
The VELscope is a handheld scope that utilizes an imaging modality that is sensitive to changes in the natural tissue fluorescence of the oral mucosa. The bright blue light of the VELscope can distinguish healthy soft tissue inside the mouth from soft tissue that has undergone pathological changes.
This ability to identify, evaluate and monitor abnormal soft tissue changes that might not be caught otherwise makes the VELscope an excellent addition to a periodic head and neck exam.