New device can help dentists detect oral cancer earlier


by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News and photojournalist DAVID GARDNER

Bio | Email | Follow: @JimB_KVUE

Posted on December 12, 2012 at 7:29 PM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 12 at 7:41 PM

AUSTIN -- When you think of oral cancer victims, doctors say over 50, heavy-smokers and drinkers come to mind. However, it's under 50, non-smokers that are among the fastest growing oral cancer populations. Doctors are hoping new technology, like the VELscope, can help them when it comes to early detection.

James Foley of South Austin has a history of cancer in his family, so having his mouth and throat bathed in blue light was fine with him. The blue light of the VELscope helps with early detection of oral cancer.

"People don't usually think of cancer as oral or in the mouth or anything like that, but it's everywhere," said Foley. "If we can get the early detection with advanced technology that's coming out everyday, then we need to take advantage of that."

Oral cancer early detection is more important than ever, because research shows under 50, non-smokers are among the fastest growing oral cancer populations.

"It's very shocking to me," said Chris Adams, D.D.S., with Rose Dental in Southwest Austin. "It gives me greater cause for concern when I'm screening patients to not just dismiss a patient because they don't fit into the typical profile of someone that's over 50 and heavy smoker or heavy drinker."  

Adams says in the past when a lesion was found through normal observation, it was usually far along in the prognosis. That's why the VELscope is a critical tool in early oral cancer prevention.

"The VELscope shines a blue light," he said. "It's very safe. It's a LED light and shines on the patient's tissue."

Tissues reacts to that light. Normal tissues shows up as green, while abnormal or precancerous tissues reveals themselves as dark spots.

"Right now I'm just glad to be alive," said Jill Ryan of Travis County.

The 70-year-old Ryan wishes the VELscope technology had been available two decades earlier.  She's endured two bouts of oral cancer, resulting in a tongue transplant.

"My speech is terrible now, but I didn't know that I would be able to talk at all."

Ryan and Adams say she's an example of the far-reaching negative effects of oral cancer and why early detection with VELscope may make a life altering difference.

Dentists say the rise in oral cancer in under 50 non-smokers is due in part to the spread of the HPV-16 virus.

One VELscope scan costs about $35.

Click here for more information on VELscope and Rose Dental.