SEATTLE - Oral cancer is the sixth most common diagnosed form of cancer in the United States. The five-year survival rate is only 50 percent, but now your dentist can screen for it using a special blue light.
The next time you visit the dentist, you may be asked to open wide for a VELscope, a new way to screen for oral cancer.
"The key to preventing, or dying from oral cancer, is making sure you catch it in an early stage," said Amy Mitchell, hygienist.
Mitchell works in Woodinville at the offices of Dr. Michael Koczarski.
One of only 50 dentists nationwide used the VELscope during clinical trials. Now Mitchell makes it part of her regular checkups.
With a high energy blue-light, the VELscope illuminates the gums. For Mitchell, it's like looking through a pair of night-vision goggles. She sees fluorescent green when the light shines on normal tissue. If there are pre-cancerous cells, the color changes.
"But oral cancer cells, unhealthy cells, precancerous cells, don't have the capability to emit that light back to the scope," said Mitchell. "So they end up absorbing all the light, so they show up as a dark color, a dark green or a dark black - very easy to spot."
The VELscope received FDA approval last year, making it easier for hygienists like Mitchell to shed new light on cancer.
"Since oral cancer is such a treatable cancer, I can see it actually getting to the point where 90 percent of people who have oral cancer can be treated and clear of it," said Mitchell.
to find a dentist who uses the VELscope near you.