Years ago, I was sitting in my childhood dental office when my hygienist asked if I was interested in an oral cancer screening for an additional cost. Being a poor college student, I asked if the screening was actually necessary. I mean come on, I would have rather spent $30 on late night Chipotle. I remember my hygienist stated oral cancer is more likely to effect the older population with a history of drinking and smoking, so I opted out.
Over the past few years, the thought process dental practitioners previously had on prevalence of oral cancer has changed drastically. It is currently estimated that 132 individuals are being diagnosed with oral cancer daily in the United States, and that many of these individuals are in the younger and non-smoking population.
How is this possible? Studies have now shown that HPV is now the fastest growing segment of the oral cancer population, with HPV-16 being the main culprit. HPV-16 is also one of the leading causes of other cancers, such as cervical cancer. There are currently 79 million Americans with HPV and it is now estimated that the majority of the US population will contract HPV at some point in their lifetime. Most individuals will fight off the virus without ever knowing they had contracted it; but for those that don’t, we have to be proactive in the way we screen for cancers.
At Abundant Smiles, we know early detection can save lives, which is why we have the ability to provide our patients with an additional cancer screening tool called the VELscope. An oral cancer screening with VELscope only adds a few extra minutes to your routine dental appointment. The device uses a bright blue fluorescent light that can help detect unhealthy tissues that are sometimes undetectable to the human eye. When cancerous or pre-cancerous lesions are detected early the survival rate can be as high as 83%. Unfortunately, when detected in the later stages, this survival rate drops to about 50%. Early diagnosis is always key in fighting cancer and catching lesions before they spread. If you are interested in this extra service, make sure you mention it at your next appointment!