Chances are on your regular trip to the dentist's office, they're not just checking for cavities and gum disease; oral cancer can also be a serious risk. In the following report, NY1 Health and Fitness Reporter Kafi Drexel has more on a new tool that could help with early detection.
You might not realize it, but that regular trip to the dentist could save you more than just a few cavities - it can also help save your life.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 30,000 people across the nation will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year. More than 7,000 will die.
“Oral cancer is quite a big problem in this country. One person every hour in the United States is actually dying of oral cancer,” says Dr. Howard Babushkin of Manhattan Oasis Dentistry. “Risk factors of course are smoking, chewing tobacco and drinking. But a quarter of the people, 25 percent of the people who will develop oral cancer, have absolutely no pre-disposing risk factors.”
But up until now, the only tool dentists have been able to use to detect any signs of a problem is the naked eye. That's been another big challenge. According to Babushkin, usually once dentists can actually see oral cancer, it's already progressed to a later stage.
That could all change with the introduction of a new tool called ViziLite Plus, made by Zila, Inc. Using the combination of a special rinse that dehydrates cells, and a light source that illuminates them, dentists are able to detect abnormalities.
“What ViziLite Plus does is give us another tool to help find these cancers at a very early stage. By doing that it's going to help us save lives,” says Dr. Babushkin. “Half the people who are diagnosed with oral cancer have a 50 percent chance of surviving five years. If we in turn find these cancers at an earlier stage, that number jumps up to 70 percent or more at a five-year survival rate.”
Use of ViziLight Plus is also doing something else for Dr. Babushkin's patients - it's raising awareness.
“I wasn't aware before that it was such a common form of cancer, and coming to Dr. Babushkin, knowing that's one of the common areas he checks on, it's comforting,” says patient Hector Suro.
Most dentists screen all patients for signs of oral cancer. Babushkin recommends ViziLite Plus for patients 18 and older, and a visual exam for younger patients.
Something for patients to note, so far only one major insurance company has come on board with covering ViziLite Plus, but they are expecting more companies to follow suit.
In the meantime, Dr. Babushkin says that compared to most cancer screening tests, ViziLite Plus is relatively affordable - between $50 and $60 a patient. It’s a pretty good investment for long-term prevention.
Atkinson's group used various tests to measure the protein profiles in saliva from 20 healthy comparison subjects and 41 patients with primary Sjogren's syndrome.