Some people may think oral cancer isn’t that common. They probably don’t realize that about 43,000 Americans are diagnosed with this disease every year—and someone in the United States dies from oral cancer every hour of every day. Unfortunately, because the disease is usually in its late stages when it’s first detected, the overall 5-year survival rate for oral cancer is only about 57 percent. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a simple, inexpensive and non-invasive test that could detect it earlier?
There’s good news on the horizon: A new type of diagnostic test is poised to make its debut. It’s the culmination of years of research from several top universities, medical and dental schools—and it may be coming soon to a dental office near you.
The new test, currently awaiting FDA approval, is based on collecting a sample of saliva and screening it for a chemical marker of disease. When this marker—a single protein found in saliva—is seen in a higher than normal proportion, it indicates a strong likelihood of oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC), which accounts for the vast majority of all oral cancers.
Today, most dentists screen for oral cancer by carefully examining the tongue and the soft tissues of the mouth. When suspicious lesions are found, patients are advised to have a biopsy; this involves removing a small piece of tissue for microscopic examination by a pathologist. While it is an effective screening method, there are a few drawbacks. Because it involves tissue removal, the biopsy procedure is minimally invasive, which may discourage some people from testing. Fortunately, most people who have a biopsy aren’t ultimately diagnosed with cancer—yet the procedure can be costly and uncomfortable.
The “rinse and spit” salivary test promises to eliminate those drawbacks. A saliva sample can be collected quickly and easily in a dental office or clinic. It can be analyzed on the spot, with results available in minutes. Only if the marker is found will a biopsy be ordered to confirm the diagnosis. That means fewer people will have to undergo uncomfortable and costly testing.
What’s more, early research indicates that the test may give an earlier indication of disease than conventional methods—even before any lesions or other signs have appeared in the mouth. And that’s good news indeed. Why? Because the earlier oral cancer is found, the greater the odds of beating it. In fact, those odds may rise from below 60 percent to 80 or even 90 percent when the disease is discovered and treated in time.
Who needs to be tested for oral cancer? In general, the disease is more prevalent in adults over 55, who account for about three-quarters of oral cancer cases. People who smoke or use other forms of tobacco, and those who consume alcohol excessively are at significantly greater risk. However, the fastest-growing segment of the oral cancer population consists of younger people who don’t smoke or drink. Oral cancer in this group is believed to result from a certain strain of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which is a common sexually transmitted disease.
Oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the world—but you can help prevent it. How? Stop using tobacco, cut down on alcohol, practice safer sex… and don’t forget to go to the dentist regularly for screenings. Soon, the new saliva test will make oral cancer diagnosis easier than ever. To learn more call one of our :DP AtYourService Customer Care Representatives at 1-800-238-5163.