• 6/16/2004
  • Houston, TX
  • By: Kristi Nakamura
  • News 24 Houston / Time Warner Cable

Dr. Timothy Cashion prides himself on having the latest in dental equipment. He says he can pinpoint cavities earlier than ever before. But new technology being developed by Dr. Ann Gillenwater at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and engineers at the University of Texas in Austin may one day allow Dr. Cashion to offer his patients something more — early detection of oral cancer.

Experts say that when it’s found early, oral cancer has an 80-90 percent cure rate. But unfortunately, they say, most of these cancers are found in late stages. “Unfortunately, many people, even in this country, come in with very late, advanced lesions because they weren’t picked up earlier. And what we’re trying to do is develop a system that will improve our ability to detect those lesions,” said Dr. Gillenwater.

The procedure is called oral spectroscopy. Dr. Gillenwater says the way it works is an oral probe uses light to distinguish between normal and abnormal tissue. As light is shined on the tissue, she says, it hits special molecules called fluorophors, which causes a fluorescence — like glow in the dark. “For instance, if you take a normal cell, as it changes toward becoming a cancer cell, it has changes in its structure, in its size, and also in the amount of these little fluorophors, the molecules that cause the fluorescence. So what we’re designing is a special system where we’re going to be able to look at the depths of the cells that are causing that fluorescence. I think it’s very important that we be able to diagnose these lesions at an earlier stage before my eye, your dentist’s eye, or your doctor’s eye can pick out those changes,” said Dr. Gillenwater. She says it could be a matter of life and death.

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