• 11/18/2004
  • San Francisco, CA
  • Dr. Dean Edell
  • KGO-TV online

Most of us rarely hear about oral cancer, yet it is the sixth most common cancer killer. It is so deadly because it is often detected too late. Dr. Dean Edell reports on a new light that may increase detection.

Cathy is getting a dental checkup, but this is slightly more than routine. Sunnyvale dentist Dr. Paul Griffith is carefully screening Cathy for any early signs of oral cancer because her family history puts her at greater risk.

Cathy Zander, dental patient: “My aunt had oral cancer and died of it. And several other people in my family have had cancer, even twice.”

Raymond is one of the lucky ones. Dr. Griffith picked up his cancer very early, both times.

Raymond Fish, oral cancer patient: “The first cancer I had was 1994 – in mid ’94 – and at that time they did surgery and then in 1996 it came back and in a different spot and at that time I had radiation therapy.”

Most of us brush and floss, and even go to the dentist regularly. But up to now, there hasn’t been a simple way to detect oral cancer. So often it goes undetected until it has advanced and is far more dangerous.

Paul Griffith, DDS, Sunnyvale dentist: “Oral cancer is a real problem because it’s not well known. There’s not a lot of discussion about it in the press. But 70 percent of the cancers are diagnosed very, very late and at that point the survival rate really drops.”

With late detection, life expectancy is less than five years. Each hour one person dies of oral cancer in the U.S.

Today, Dr. Griffith is using ViziLite – a new oral cancer screening tool. It looks more a star wars weapon, but ViziLite uses a unique wavelength to reveal cancers in the check mucosa and under the tongue.

Dr. Griffith: “The ViziLite is very helpful because it is a low-tech solution, that gives me an extra pair of eyes… It allows me to see tissues that may appear normal under normal light conditions, will appear abnormal.”

ViziLite shows Cathy is fine. But here’s a different patient. Under normal light the tissues look fine, but Vizilte shows a suspicious lesion.

Dr. Griffith: “Detection is really the key.”

Ray is getting screened with the new ViziLite. And after a few minutes, he gets a clear bill of health. He knows he already beat the odds.

Raymond Fish: “So I guess I’m extremely lucky in that way.”

And with a little help from a little purple light, maybe he’ll stay that way.

Risk factors include alcohol abuse, smoking and having a family history, but nearly one in four oral cancer patients have no risk factors.

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