Brushing Away Oral Cancer

FRESNO, Calif.

Robert Levine is one happy guy. He should be. He avoided disaster just by going to the dentist.

"I always wondered why the dentist pulled your tongue out and looked on both sides," Levine told Action News.

During a routine cleaning, Levine's dentist found something on the bottom of his tongue.

"He saw a white spot on one side," Levine said.

The almost undetectable spot was dysplasia -- a pre-cancerous cell.

"One of the biggest problems, once we find it and diagnosis, survival is less than a year," David Godin, M.D., an otolaryngologist at Beth Israel Hospital in New York, told Action News.

Mark Rutenberg, CEO & Co-founder of OralCDx Laboratories, used the same technology he created in the military to determine nuclear warheads from decoys to create OralCDx. It's used to detect abnormal cells among normal cells.

"It's a pap smear for the mouth, throat and esophagus," Rutenberg told Action News.

It's a brush test that sweeps across the inside of the mouth.

"As part of our normal oral cancer screening, we check the mouth for white spots and red spots," Dr. Samuel Horowitz, a dentist, told Action News.

Traditionally, cancerous cells were found after lesions or other symptoms appear. Then, doctors performed a biopsy, which could miss cancerous cells. There's no anesthesia, and it takes just a few minutes.

The brush biopsy is sent to a lab where 200 of the most suspicious cells are analyzed by specially-trained pathologists.

A cancerous cell has six to eight genetic mutations. A precancerous cell has four.

"If you can find those cells and remove them, you can prevent cancer before it starts," Rutenberg told Action News.

Gastroenterologist Elliot Heller, M.D., took part in a clinical trial using a similar brush test plus the traditional biopsy to detect esophageal cancer.

"We had a 40 percent increase of finding Barrett's," Dr. Heller told Action News.

From the esophagus to the throat to the mouth, this brush test could be key to stopping a killer.

"I'd go for that test every day," Levine told Action News.

Although there is no one cause of oral cancer, a rise in this disease in women is believed to be due to a rise in HPV -- a sexually-transmitted disease that is known to cause oral cancers. Also, more young men are using smokeless chewing tobacco, which also contributes to this disease. Rutenberg says of the half a million tests done at his lab, the typical patient with precancerous cells is a 40-year-old, non-smoker.

Eric Hirsch, Public Relations
OralCDx Laboratories

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