Detecting Oral Cancer Early Why it’s so important to screen for oral cancer in your practice.
r. Ford Gatgens’s practice philosophy is simple: find ways to raise the level of patient care, whether that means investing in new technology or implementing strategies that make his practice more efficient. And to him, there’s no better way to do that than by actually saving a patient’s life. That’s why he invested in OralID, an adjunctive oral cancer screening device from Forward Science. OralID uses fluorescence technology to help health care professionals spot oral cancer, pre-cancer and other abnormal lesions at an earlier stage—often before they’re visible to the naked eye. The exam takes about two minutes, Dr. Gatgens said, and is an advanced oral cancer screening he offers to all his patients for free. This is important to Dr. Gatgens because he’s seen what oral cancer can do. While he knows patients who beat oral cancer that was discovered early, he also knows patients who were diagnosed late and passed away. “When I was in dental school, I don’t think they told me I would see that much oral cancer in my practicing career, but the incidence rate is on the rise,” said Dr. Gatgens, who’s been practicing for about 10 years. “We can really change the outcome of someone’s life. That’s an important, powerful message. It’s our duty to make sure we’re advocates in letting people know the risks and what’s going on out there.” While screening devices are a helpful tool, visual and palpation exams are just as beneficial—and should be performed on every patient at least once a year, said Brian Hill, stage IV oral cancer survivor and Founder/Executive Director of The Oral Cancer Foundation. These exams add about five minutes From the Advisory Board “We use VELscope as an adjunct for the hygiene staff. It promotes good oral health care delivered to patients.” -Dr. Tyler Scott
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By Renee Knight, Editor
to the appointment, but that five minutes could be a lifesaver. Whether you use an adjunctive device or choose to only perform visual exams, it’s important to make oral cancer screenings a priority in your young practice. Implementing screenings and educating patients about their risks will help build patient connections, grow your practice and, most importantly, save lives.
INCORPORATING A SCREENING DEVICE Oral cancer screening devices can help you find cancer at an early stage, but they also find everything else, including pizza burns, cheek bites and other traumas, Hill said. They detect areas in the tissue that are different, not just cancerous, so if you plan to invest in one of these lights, you’ll need to differentiate between what’s a potential problem and what’s harmless. Common abnormalities only last for about two weeks, Hill said, so it’s important to ask patients if they noticed anything before they came in for their appointment. If they say the sore has been there for a month or longer, you should refer the patient to an oral surgeon for a second opinion and to possibly perform a biopsy. If the patient didn’t know about the abnormality until you discovered it, have him or her come back in two weeks for another assessment, and then follow the appropriate steps from there. Although Dr. Gatgens chooses to offer these advanced exams for free, Hill said some dentists opt to charge a small amount, usually around $25, to make it a profit center for their practice. In many practices, the hygienist handles these exams, Forward Science Chief Executive Officer Robert Whitman said. As an incentive, he suggests giving hygienists a $5 bonus for every oral cancer exam they complete with the device. This gives hygienists, who already tend to be passionate about screening for oral cancer, more reason to complete the exam as well as to educate patients about the disease. WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU FIND AN ABNORMALITY Remember, even when you perform an exam, whether it’s visually or with a screening device, it’s not a perfect science, Hill said. You still might miss something, and that could