New technology aims to detect oral cancer sooner

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s a deadly form of cancer that kills one person every hour, every day.

More than 43,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer – or cancer of the head and neck — this year. More than 40 percent will die within five years of the diagnosis.

The reason it’s so deadly is that people don’t usually find out they have oral cancer until late in its development. But an area doctor is using new technology to detect it sooner.

“They took all of my lymph nodes out of my neck,” said Bob Crystal. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 squamous cell cancer of the tonsils 15 years ago. “As you can see there’s not much neck here, and then the cancer had spread into my shoulder here.”

Austin dentist Dr. Matthew Steinberg says a routine neck and head exam would have detected Crystal’s cancer. But back then dentists didn’t screen for it.

“You’re looking for lumps and bumps,” Steinberg said. “The neck, the back of the head, inside the mouth, anything that is abnormal.”

Steinberg has a new medical device called fluorescence technology. It uses a blue light to identify trouble spots that could indicate early signs of oral cancer

“An abnormal lesion in the mouth would turn dark,” Steinberg said. “Anything that is normal would eradiate and look green, so this way you can see in the mouth any dark areas.”

The exam takes just two minutes.

“If they had checked for oral cancer then chances are I wouldn’t have had to go through all this,” Crystal said. “It’s left me really impaired.”

While it comes too late for Crystal, he hopes it’ll save lives in the future.

Steinberg includes his florescent light exam routine at no charge, but not all dentists have it and insurance coverage could vary depending on the dentist and your insurance. Steinberg adds 40 percent of all patients diagnosed with oral cancer are younger and nonsmokers.

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