Catching oral cancer in its first stages used to take a keen eye and a little luck. Now, new technology formerly used to detect nuclear warheads is helping detect oral cancer.
Every hour, one person dies of oral cancer and of the 36,000 people who will be diagnosed this year with it, only slightly more than half will be alive in five years.
Patients diagnosed with oral cancer have low survivor rates because it is often not detected until it is too late.
Robert Levine avoided disaster just by going to the dentist. During a routine cleaning, Levine's dentist found something on the bottom of his tongue.
"He saw a white spot on one side," said Levine.
That white spot, almost undetectable dysplasia, a pre-cancerous cell.
"One of the biggest problems, once we find it and diagnosis, survival is less than a year," said doctor and otolaryngologist David Godin, who works at Beth Israel Hospital in New York City as a head and neck surgeon.
Godin said that the key to beating oral cancer is to find it early before a pre-cancerous cell turns into a carcinoma, something that 95 percent of all cancers turn into.
Mark Rutenberg, CEO and co-founder of Oral CDX laboratories used the same technology he created in the military to determine nuclear warheads from decoys to create Oral CDX. The technology is a brush test that sweeps across the inside of the mouth and is used to detect abnormal cells among normal cells.
"This lining we're talking about is the thickness of a piece of paper," said Rutenberg.
Doctors traditionally tested for cancerous cells by searching for visible lesions or other symptoms. If any were found, a biopsy was performed, which can miss cancerous cells.
Oral CDX take only a few minutes and does not require any anesthesia. The brush biopsy is sent to a lab where 200 of the most suspicious cells are analyzed by specially-trained pathologists.
Since a cancerous cell has six to eight genetic mutations and a precancerous cell has four, "If you can find those cells and remove them, you can prevent cancer before it starts," said Rutenberg.
Gastroenterologist Elliot Heller took part in a clinical trial that used a similar brush test in addition to the traditional biopsy to detect esophageal cancer and discovered that it had an increase of 40 percent at detecting the cancer.
Although there is no one cause of oral cancer, a rise in the disease in women is believed to be due to a rise in human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease that can be transmitted through oral sex and is known to cause oral cancers. Smokeless chewing tobacco, used more and more by young men, can also contribute to the disease.
Rutenberg reports that of the half a million tests done at his lab, the typical patient with precancerous cells are 40-year-old, non-smokers.
"Brushing" Away Oral Cancer
Background: Oral cancer is cancer of the mouth. An estimated 350,000 to 400,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. Approximately half of people with oral cancer will live more than five years after they are diagnosed and treated. If the cancer is found early, before it has spread to other tissues, the cure rate is nearly 90 percent. However, more than half of oral cancers have already spread when the cancer is detected. Most have spread to the throat or neck. About 1 in 4 people with oral cancer die because of delayed diagnosis and treatment. (SOURCE: PubMed Health)
Carcinoma: Carcinomas are malignancies that originate in the epithelial tissues. Epithelial cells cover the external surface of the body, line the internal cavities, and form the lining of glandular tissues. The incidence of oral tongue squamous cell carcinoma has been rising in young white American women, according to a new report. For the past three decades, the incidence has been increasing in white men and white women 18 to 44 years of age, but the trend is most pronounced in young white women.
Early Testing: The OralCDx BrushTest is an easy, painless and definitive way for doctors to test the common small white and red oral spots that most people have in their mouth at one time or another. The BrushTest is used to determine if a common oral spot contains abnormal cells (known as dysplasia) that, if left alone for several years, may develop into oral cancer.
It typically takes several years before a dysplastic oral spot can turn into an oral cancer, and during this time, the spot can be removed, and oral cancer can potentially be prevented from even starting. OralCDx consists of a specially-designed brush that is used to painlessly obtain a sample of an oral lesion. In contrast to a typical cytologic smear, like a Pap smear, which samples cells only from the superficial layer, the OralCDx brush obtains a complete transepithelial biopsy specimen by collecting cells from all three layers of the epithelium: the superficial, intermediate and the basal layer. OralCDx requires no anesthesia, causes no pain and is associated with minimal or no bleeding. (SOURCE: OralCDx)
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*Eric Hirsch, Public Relations