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New Oral Cancer Test Could Be Coming to a Dental Practice Near You

With oral cancer rates increasing around the world, researchers are working diligently to find faster and more accurate ways to detect this potentially fatal disease before it’s too late. Here in America, oral cancer has become so common that according to the National Cancer Institute, one American dies from oral cancer every 60 minutes. But while in decades past, oral cancer was most frequently caused by lifestyle choices like drinking alcohol and cigarette smoking, oral cancers due to the human papilloma virus, or HPV, are on the rise.


Already the leading cause of cervical cancer in women, the sexually transmitted HPV can be much easier to miss when presenting orally, because it is usually only screened for during routine pap tests. Because of this, oral HPV can often be much more dangerous than cervical HPV simply because nobody is looking for it. But now, a new, 30-second HPV screening test that can be administered right at the dentist’s office is making its way to dental practices around the country, and it could save a lot of lives.

Dr. Michele Simpson of Wilmington, North Carolina is one dentist who sees the value in offering this type of screening in a dental setting.

"Often with HPV-related oral cancer, we don’t see the warning signs until it is already advanced to the cancerous stage," said Simpson. "By catching HPV before it has a chance to develop into cancer could literally save patients’ lives."

Another benefit to offering the test at dental practices is the elimination of the fear factor.

"It can be embarrassing for some patients to discuss STD’s with their doctor, and many younger patients may be too afraid to go to clinic for testing on their own," said Simpson. "If they’re already at the dentist and the test is offered, they don’t need to go to a clinic, or make an extra appointment to be screened. It’s convenient, discreet, and if you’re already going to be at the dentist every 6 months, you know you’ll make time for it."

The test itself is pretty simple. The patient is given a solution similar to mouthwash that they swish around in their mouth for a few seconds before spitting into a cup. The dentist then tests the fluid deposited into the cup and provides the patient results.

"I like how unassuming the actual test is," said Simpson. "There are no invasive exams, and to a passerby, you could just be rinsing your mouth after a cleaning. I think that will eliminate a lot of the anxiety surrounding the test itself, and hopefully, more patients will agree to be tested."

As for what happens next if the test is positive, Simpson says that can most likely be handled in-office as well.

"For patients with a positive HPV test, we’d want to assess if the patient is currently suffering from an outbreak," Simpson said. "If so, an appropriate treatment plan would be devised, such as freezing off any warts or lesions if possible. If the HPV has already advanced to oral cancer, it really depends on what stage the cancer is at when it’s discovered. The good news is, HPV-related oral cancers generally have higher survival rates than other forms of oral cancer, but the key is detecting and treating it as quickly as possible."

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