Mouth cancer scan hope
GRANT McARTHUR ALANAH FROST
New tech on trial
A SIMPLE scan inside a person’s mouth is hoped to replace surgery as a way of detecting one of Australia’s most common forms of cancer.
Powerful new imaging technology is being trialled in Melbourne as a means of detecting oral cancer before there’s a need for invasive biopsies or surgery, which if advanced can require parts of the tongue of mouth to be removed.
By mapping the inside of the mouth — in the same way a mole map monitors suspect areas of skin — the trial at the Melbourne Dental School will collect extensive data and profile patients to monitor any changes.
The technology uses a tiny probe to capture magnified images inside a person’s mouth that can show lesions at a cellular level and determine if they are cancerous before they grow.
With about 2000 Australians diagnosed with mouth cavity cancers a year — and 70 per cent presenting at late stage when the disease has spread — design company OptiScan said early detection could make a big difference.
“We can capture an image at a cellular level, we can record where it is taken from, and then you can come back six weeks later and capture another image to compare them,” said Darren Laurie, the company’s chief executive officer.
“It has the ability to give you a pathology-like image without having to take a scalpel biopsy.’’
Over the next 18 months, 150 people with potentially cancerous lesions will be involved in the trial and will have three rounds of screening through the dental school’s clinic, at the Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne, while also undergoing conventional pathology and treatments.
Tami Yap, a senior lecturer in oral medicine and pathology at the school, said as well as hoping to reduce the number of biopsies for patients, having cellular-level images would allow surgeons to remove smaller sections of confirmed cancers.
“If you lost a golf ball-sized piece from your leg you could just wear pants to cover it up and it probably wouldn’t bother you — but if you remove a golf ball size amount from your tongue you are really going to be changing the way people speak, their ability to swallow and eat and ultimately how people feel,” Dr Yap said.
Melbourne woman Carlie Rogers, 36, was diagnosed with oral cancer in 2017 after an eagle-eyed dentist noticed something a bit odd. “It was a huge shock to me, I’m a pretty healthy active person and I’ve never smoked. I wasn’t expecting cancer,” Ms Rogers said.
Since then, Ms Rogers has had to have regular check-ups and multiple scalpel biopsies — none of which have found any further cancerous lumps.
She’s now taking part in the OptiScan trial. “To go in for my regular check-ups knowing I’m not going to have a scalpel biopsy unless it’s planned … is amazing, ” she said.