Oral cancer is surprisingly common, ranking sixth among all types of cancer diagnosed in the United States, according to the Academy of General Dentistry. Like with all cancers, if oral cancer is not detected early enough, it can have devastating, even fatal, effects. Your oral surgeon is trained to spot signs of oral cancer, such as lesions or unusual thickening of the oral tissues.
An oral surgeon can diagnose oral cancer in its earliest, most treatable stages, which adds to the value of establishing a relationship with this type of dental specialist.
Although it has been difficult to catch oral cancer early in the past, new methods have emerged that improve the process. Specifically, Chicago oral surgeon Dr. Koos offers the VELscope oral cancer early detection system. The VELscope system shines a special blue light onto the oral tissues, and that light then causes the cells to become fluorescent. When the cells are fluorescent, any abnormal cells will have a different appearance from their healthy counterparts. The VELscope system is the only FDA-approved device that assists oral surgeons in identifying abnormal clusters of cells that are not visible to the naked eye.
When a suspicious group of cells is identified by using the VELscope system, the oral surgeon can remove them and send them to a lab to be biopsied. If a cancer diagnosis is confirmed, the oral surgeon can also help to treat the condition, by surgically removing the cancerous cells.
Certain risk factors increase the likelihood that a person will develop oral cancer. If you smoke or use chewing tobacco or regularly consume large amounts of alcohol, you should have an oral surgeon screen you regularly for the disease. The HPV virus can be the culprit in oral cancer cases, so patients who have tested positive for it should be closely monitored, as should patients with a family history of the condition.
If you have any of these risk factors, schedule an appointment for a VELscope evaluation with Dr. Koos. Even seemingly risk-free patients should take this step, too, as many cases of oral cancer are idiopathic, or without any apparent cause. This screening may ultimately save your life.