Jan. 8, 2002 PHILADELPHIA – Dentists now have an easy-to-use, pain-free way to detect oral cancer at its earliest stages. Called the cytobrush biopsy, the technique underwent clinical trials at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine that showed it to be a significant advance over previous cytology (PAP smear-type) tests.
"Early detection is our most important weapon in our fight against oral cancer," said Martin S. Greenberg, DDS, professor and chairman of oral medicine at Penn and chief of oral medicine at Penn Medical Center. "The survival rate for this prevalent cancer is only 50 percent overall, but survival rates increase to greater than 80 percent if the cancer is found early."
With the cytobrush technique, developed by engineers and cytologists at Oral Scan Systems, a New York-based health devices company, a dentist who finds an area of concern runs a small round brush – similar to a mascara wand – over the suspicious lesion.
"The bristles are like those on a toothbrush," Greenberg said. "They can penetrate and get a better sampling of cells than the old scraping technique."
The sample is sent to a lab where it is scanned using advanced computer technology. Suspicious slides are tagged for further evaluation by a technician. The computer is so exacting, Greenberg said, that the false negative rate, which was as high as 30 percent using the scraping method, dropped to 0 percent in the clinical trials. Penn conducted clinical trials on the cytobrush for more than a year.
"Oral cancer is a nasty disease," Greenberg said. "The best way to avoid it is prevention; no smoking, no excessive alcohol and regular oral exams to detect early suspicious lesions."
Each year in the United States, 30,000 new cases of oral and oropharyngeal cancer are found and 8,500 people die from the disease. Survivors of advanced oral cancer, which is a major cause of death worldwide, have significant physical and psychological disability, he said.
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