New technology offers non-invasive method for early oral cancer detection

29 July 2020

A research project led by the University of Melbourne’s team at The Melbourne Dental School is working with Victorian company Optiscan to improve screening and early cancer diagnosis of oral cancer. 

In an article published on the eve of World Head and Neck Cancer Day, which is dedicated to raising awareness of head and neck cancer, and the importance of its early detection in ensuring optimal health outcomes, Dr Tami Yap and Professor Michael McCullough detail the way in which the project offers a way to “visually examine the mouth for cancer without the need for a surgical biopsy”. 

It notes that early detection of oral cancer is critical since many people are diagnosed at an advanced stage of progression, a situation which means that the five-year mortality rate for people with the disease is approximately 50 per cent. 

While dentists plat a crucial role in early detection of oral cancer, the article notes that increasing diagnosis rates at early stages of the disease is complicated by "the limited tools to detect and monitor potential oral cancers and skin lesions over time [which] forces clinicians to remove suspicious lesions by scalpel biopsy and assess pathology." 

The project aims to identify those most at risk of developing oral cancer by using laser light and confocal optics to perform “digital biopsies” using Optiscan’s InVivage TM technology, which utilises a hand-held state-of-the-art confocal laser endomicroscope. 

It is hoped that the technology will help the research team “to assess the tissue and determine if a biopsy or surgery is required there and then.” 

The research will be used to prepare for clinical trials due to commence in September this year by referral, with an eventual aim of reocmmending changes in the standard of oral cancer care. 

For the full article on the University of Melbourne’s PURSUIT site, go to “Towards the Early Detection of Oral Cancers”