Should you be screened for oral cancer, and are companies profiting from the uncertainty?

Most dentists do a thorough visual mouth evaluation to screen for oral cancer.

Whether there is data to support this practice is in question, with few studies suggesting a mortality benefit. The recommendations themselves are extrapolated from studies looking at other cancers.

Like other diseases where there is a gray area surrounding the efficacy of screening, like ovarian, lung, or pancreatic cancer, companies are rushing in to profit from the lack of data.

In the case of oral cancer, this technology is known as VELscope. Dentists can charge for the study, and some insurers are reimbursing for the procedure. Although the test can detect more pre-cancerous cells versus visual inspection alone, there is no data as to whether this would save lives.

There is a high false positive rate, meaning that patients may receive unnecessary recommendations to visit an oral surgeon for biopsies of benign lesions.

Until there is more data, whether or not these tests benefit the patient, or the dentist’s and oral surgeon’s financial bottom line, will continue to be in question.

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