A UK university plans to develop a simple test to screen dental patients for cancerous cells with funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Researchers from the University of…

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New Oral Cancer Screening May Increase Awareness

A UK university plans to develop a simple test to screen dental patients for cancerous cells with funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Researchers from the University of Sheffield want to create a cheap dental screening method where a machine could quickly evaluate cells painlessly taken from the dental patient’s mouth with a brush, according to the Dental Tribune. Rather than sending a surgically removed tissue sample out to a lab for testing, this machine would produce results in-office within 20 minutes. Cells would be placed on a chip for evaluation in the machine.

The method is being clinically tested to make the technology as sensitive and effective as possible. If successful, this development would lead to quicker evaluation, fewer dental office visits and cheaper treatment costs. Researchers hope to increase awareness of the disease as well.

Public Awareness

Early detection of oral cancer drastically raises the survival rate from 50% to 90%, but the public typically is not even aware of its importance. The British Dental Health Foundation conducted a survey of 1,000 members of the public showing how few people know about the dangers of oral cancer. Here’s what they discovered:

  • One in 10 people surveyed said they had never even heard of oral cancer.
  • Men are twice as likely to suffer from the disease than women, but fewer men are actually aware of the problem.
  • More than one-third of the public thought that in the UK, one person per day died of oral cancer or related complications – a drastic underestimation. The actual UK statistic shows that someone dies of oral cancer every five hours. This is a higher rate than that of testicular cancer and cervical cancer combined.

In 2008, more than 35,000 people in the U.S. were diagnosed with oral cancer, according to WebMD. A simple, easy, cheap dental test administered during a regular dental visit could both raise awareness of the disease and lower the incidence of allowing cancerous lesions to reach advanced stages.

How the Test Works

The test would involve placing cell samples on disposable nano-biochips. A small, battery-powered machine would have a slot for the credit card-shaped chip, where the sample would be moved from the chip into a small testing chamber. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) light up different parts of the cells while they flow through tiny channels. Cancerous and healthy cells glow differently in response to the light, allowing the machine to identify the disease.

Risk Factors

The overwhelmingly highest risk factor is still tobacco use, especially when coupled with excessive alcohol consumption, accounting for three out of every four cases.  A New Jersey congressman even called for a tobacco ban at the recent World Series baseball games. He said that the habit is a terrible influence on children in addition to harming the players. Several people opposed his proposition, saying that chewing tobacco is not the same as smoking it. However, the issue was brought back to light when San Diego Padres player Tony Gwynn speculated that chewing tobacco probably led to his recent diagnosis of oral cancer.

Poor diet, neglected dental hygiene and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) are an increasing concern as well. Experts say that young people under these criteria, especially those with more than one sexual partner, may soon rival the older 50+ demographic for disease prevalence.

Early Detection at the Dentist

This all highlights the importance of seeing a dentist regularly. If you go in for an oral exam every six months to a year, your dentist can check for small lesions or other irregularities that might lead to cancer. Even without this new machine researchers are developing, your dentist can still recognize potential hazards in your mouth that the average person would not notice or even be able to see.

Some people may be unwilling or unable to shoulder the cost of such dental visits, but an affordable dental plan can make the process much simpler and less of a financial burden. Healthy habits and visiting the dentist are the most important step in preventing and catching the issue before it becomes a serious, expensive and dangerous problem.

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