The Oral Cancer Foundation estimates that 48,000 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year, and that 9,500 people die each year from oral cancer. When oral cancer is detected early, the chances of effective treatment and survival increase – but many people don’t receive the oral cancer screenings they need to detect cancer until it’s at an advanced stage.
For many years, dentists have used visual examinations to find signs of potential oral cancer, followed by biopsies to test suspicious cells. Recent advances in technology, however, are helping dentists find potential cancer cells more quickly and thoroughly. One tool for this purpose is the VELscope.
The VELscope is a handheld scope that uses fluorescent light. The fluorescence lights up the mouth’s tissues differently than ordinary lighting, making it easier to see abnormal cells or tissue that might not otherwise show up. With better visualization, dentists and doctors can spot areas of concern more quickly and ensure that patients get the testing they need for oral cancer before it spreads further.
Here are a few reasons dental patients like the VELscope:
- It doesn’t cause extra discomfort. Since the VELscope simply shines a special kind of light into the mouth, it is typically no more uncomfortable than any other part of an oral exam. Some patients even consider it the most comfortable part of their visit.
- It gives the dentist a better view. Dentists typically use the VELscope in addition to the traditional visual screening, not as a replacement for it. This creates two opportunities to spot potential cancer cells, instead of just one.
- It can see things that the naked eye can’t. The fluorescent light used by the VELscope lights up the tissues in a way that ordinary lights used in a dental office don’t. Some cancer cells that might have gone missed under normal lights can’t hide from the VELscope.
It is important to remember that while the VELscope is a helpful tool for improving oral cancer screenings, it’s not foolproof. If your dentist spots cells inside your mouth that cause concern, it’s very important to have a biopsy and to see an oral cancer specialist if needed. And since our bodies change as we age, it’s also important to have periodic screenings to check if your oral health has changed, too.
If you have questions about the VELscope or any other tool your dentist uses, ask! The more you know about your own care, the easier it is for you to make informed choices that will help you stay comfortable and healthy.
Your dentist can also provide additional information on oral cancer, including advice on how to reduce any specific risks you may have due to a past history of smoking, a family history of oral cancer, or other factors.
The staff at the dental office of Dr. Jason Dittberner is committed to treating each of our patients with the same care and comfort we’d give any cherished member of our families. If you have questions about the care we provide, don’t hesitate to call our office at 928-733-7900.