Here in our practice we like to make sure not only that the teeth are healthy, but that the oral tissues are healthy as well.Dr. Stanley Wendt, Jr. offers oral cancer screenings out of his San Antonio, Texas practice to help ensure patient health. Early detection is of the utmost importance when it comes to oral cancer, and our practice uses special technology to make that happen. If you are interested in learning more about our oral cancer screenings, contact our San Antonio dental office today.

Causes of Oral Cancer

Sometimes bad habits like smoking and chewing tobacco products can lead to changes in the oral tissues. Other times it can be caused by family history, genetics, or exposure in our lives to chemicals that cause our cells to mutate or change. Abnormal growth of cells can also be caused by:

  • excessive alcohol use
  • excessive sunlight exposure
  • radiation
  • obesity
  • viruses

Abnormal cell growth, sometimes uncontrolled, is defined as cancer. But before you get too upset, not all cancers are life-threatening. Some are bad and these are called “malignant,” but others are simply cells growing abnormally and these are called “benign,” and once removed are “cured.” The problem generally with any abnormal cell growth is that if these can migrate, that is metastasize, then the cells can go somewhere else in the body and grow abnormally there. In the oral cavity and the surrounding tissues, when these abnormal cell growths spread they normally spread in the lymph or vascular system. If these are bad or malignant cells this can be life-threatening. Early diagnosis is essential in taking care of any these growths.

Dr. Shaffer is well acquainted by personal experience with cancer as his wife is a survivor for over 10 years from malignant breast cancer. In addition, Dr. Shaffer has had a benign skin cancer called basil cell carcinoma removed from the back of his neck and his right knee. Dr. Shaffer promotes early diagnosis because he has had first-hand experience in knowing how essential it is to take care of any these growths in order to have the best prognosis or chance of full recovery.

Detecting Oral Cancer

Dr. Shaffer uses a special light called a Velscope®. It is used to diagnose unusual or abnormal cell growths in the oral cavity by fluorescence visualization. Big words for a green light that helps us see changes in tissue and detect those changes in their early stages. This light has been used by medical professionals to detect early changes leading to melanoma skin cancer, and it has been in the dental field for a short two or three years. The procedure is easy as saying “open up” and then shining this special light into the oral cavity and looking at the tissue. Dr. Shaffer and Lyndel, his oral hygienist, have extensive experience in oral cancer screenings. While this light is good when changes have become visible, some changes are below the skin level and not apparent until the abnormal cell growth is well advanced.

As Dr. Shaffer said the procedure is very simple. Abnormal cell growths have increased vascularization or simply more blood vessels because the tissue is growing fast and abnormally. When Dr. Shaffer shines the special light on the tissues, the areas with a high level of blood vessels appear black in contrast to the surrounding tissue, which appears a fluorescent green. Dr. Shaffer can then take a picture with a special camera attached to the light and that can go to the surgeon to help them do a biopsy or surgery.

The Effectiveness of Oral Cancer Screenings

People always ask how effective the Velscope® is. Well the early research is in and this is what it says. In a paper, just published in “General Dentistry” last year, the first dental clinical study sums it up this way: “Screening with incandescent light examination [that’s the chair/unit light mentioned above] yielded a prevalence of mucosal abnormalities of 0.83%, none of which were premalignant. Screening with incandescent light examination combined with direct tissue fluorescence visualization [the green light] yielded a 1.3% prevalence of mucosal abnormalities; based on surgical biopsy and histopathologic examination, 83% of these were potentially premalignant epithelial dysplasia”. A lot of big words simply saying that, using this light, the clinical investigators were able to see earlier the abnormal cells that were present during examinations. Also, compared to looking using the light we have used for years, more abnormal growths were seen early using this light and a very high percent of these were of the bad (malignant) cells.

Finally,look at these pictures from the Velscope® in our practice.

Both abnormal growths were seen in the practice and referred to an oral surgeon for biopsy. The one on the left from a staff member looked very bad and the one on the right looked almost normal, although clinically both looked abnormal. Both, thank goodness, were benign and both patients were informed that there were no worries. It’s in the “green light” that we can help some people get earlier treatment and keep them around for a long time.

Visit Us for Your Oral Cancer Screening

At Restorative Dentistry Associates, the health of our patients is of the utmost importance. We want you to stay oral cancer-free. So call Robin at Alon Dental Care to schedule an exam and cleaning. You can be sure that we will be examining you with the “green light” to give you the best, most high-tech oral cancer screening available in dentistry today.