Standard dentistry tool found to identify HPV oral cancer lesions

FEBRUARY 19, 2009--A new study in the journal General Dentistry explains that oral cancer caused by HPV (human papillomavirus, the most common sexually transmitted virus, which has more than 100 strains) can be detected using a conventional device used routinely by dentists to harden cavity fillings in teeth: VELscope (LED Medical Diagnostics Inc., White Rock, BC, Canada).

John C. Comisi, DDS, FAGD, author of the study, explains that when emitting a specific wavelength of light into the mouth, oral fluorescence occurs, which in turn causes the tissue to emit its own light. The VELscope produces a blue light that excites the oral tissue cells. Healthy cells will fluoresce back and appear green in color, while damaged and unhealthy (cancerous) cells in the mouth will not fluoresce and thus will appear as black or dark maroon areas against the green surrounding tissue.

"Surgery can remove cancerous lesions, but typically if they are found at a late stage, the surgery can be extensive," says Dr. Comisi. "Only early detection can help to minimize the extent of surgery needed to eradicate the disease. The earlier a lesion is detected, the higher the rate of survival," he adds.

The Oral Cancer Foundation warns that oral cancer is typically hard to diagnose because in early stages, it may not be noticed by the patient. The Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) spokesperson Eugene Antenucci, DMD, FAGD, says, "Dentists have a unique ability to diagnose disease at an early stage. All dentists are trained to do comprehensive oral screening examinations—each individual practitioner decides on how to implement their training in their practices."

The foundation says that of the more than 34,000 Americans diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year, only half will be alive in 5 years. Numerous studies have shown a connection to oral and overall health. That is why it is important to disclose all health related problems to a dentist, including STDs.

More information:
See the paper, Oral human papillomavirus lesion identified using VELscope instrumentation: Case report in the journal General Dentistry.

Posted by Barbara G. Goode, barbarag@pennwell.com, for BioOptics World.

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