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Oral screening can find hidden disease

Get your free oral screening done at the Winfield Dental clinic on April 25.

Bryce Gibney, contributor

When members of the public think about cancer, the last place they expect to turn to is their family dentist.

Virtually every family has been touched in one way or another by cancer, and we have been warned for decades now about some of the high risk behavior (smoking and excessive alcohol use, for example) that puts us more at risk.

Here in the Okanagan with our lovely summer sunshine our physicians are likely to caution patients about skin cancer, and to be on the lookout for any telltale change in appearance or development of lumps or growths. All of that is certainly relevant, but the one form of cancer that most people are still unaware of is oral cancer. Family doctors in B.C. discover 25 per cent of the cases of oral cancer, but a full 75 per cent of patients with suspicious lesions are uncovered in the dental chair. Dentists do, apparently, save lives.

Lake Country dentist Dr. Greg Kosar and his team are doing their part this coming April 25 at their Winfield practice. They are hosting a free Oral Cancer Screening Day using VELscope technology.

Unlike some other cancers, most patients suffer little discomfort. If a clinician waits until he/she receives patient feedback concerning a trouble area, it is likely too late.

There is a relatively recent tool to aid diagnosis available in some dental and medical offices called a VELscope. This is an instrument developed right here in B.C. by a lower mainland company in conjunction with the B.C. Cancer Agency. This device is designed to help detect potentially malignant disorders of the mouth at an early stage using direct tissue autofluorescence. In layman’s’ language, this is a non-invasive hand held light emitting device about the size of a large flashlight.

Using the light from the VELscope the operator is able to see previously undetectable potential trouble spots, and make a determination regarding the necessity for further testing. The danger for the patient is that most patients never complain about any symptoms. A visual check is not sufficient to detect pre-cancers. The VELscope diagnostic unit sees beneath the surface and actually improves the five-year survivability ratio from 50 per cent to over 90 per cent.

The VELscope has been part of Kosar clinical exams for a number of years, due in part to the work his partner and wife, Dr. Lina Jung, has done with the local B.C. Cancer Agency location in Kelowna.

She has been working with them since 1997 in the dental and oral oncology department, and use of this screening device is commonplace. Not every dental office has this equipment, so Winfield Dental has made the commitment to provide this open house screening in their office.

The time involved for the patient is minimal—normally 10 minutes. The big advantage is that with successful completion of this exam the dentists are able to rule this insidious cancer out. Dr. Kosar stresses that their role is not to discover cancer. They are the early warning system to detect any abnormalities not visible to the naked eye, and if found refer patients to the oral surgeons who take it to the next step.

Oral cancer is not an ‘elderly’ disease—it is now more prevalent with young people than ever before with the disease being passed sexually as well.

Oral surgeons use this tool extensively as well, in determining how close to a lesion they can safely operate. A recent study determined that surgeries, completed with the VELscope results as a visual guideline, have a much lower chance of reoccurrence.

All of this is pretty good cause to ensure you and your family get into Winfield Dental on April 25 between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. They are located at 208-3121 Hill Rd, in Winfield.