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MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid is the only hospital in Spain to use VELscope, a diagnostic tool allowing tumors of the mouth and lips to be detected in the early stages by means of ultraviolet light.

  • In addition to smoking and alcohol, the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) has become one of the main causes of oral cavity tumors.

In accordance with the latest data published by the Spanish Medical Oncology Society (SEOM), the incidence of oral cavity cancer is approximately 3% of the Spanish population. “Although oral cavity cancer rates are not particularly high if compared with other types of tumor, it must be borne in mind that this cancer can be very disabling and aggressive without suitable treatment. Oral cavity cancer includes all tumors of the mouth and lips, specifically of the squamous cells (thin, flat cells covering the lips and walls of the mouth)”, says Dr. Nestor Montesdeoca, head of the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Service at MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid.

These areas of the oral mucosa often suffer small lesions or ulcers that, in most cases, are caused by rubbing against teeth or simple ulcers of no importance. But on other occasions, as the doctor explains, “these small ulcers can be a sign of a pre-malignant lesion, so having a full clinical examination of the mouth during a dental check-up may be vital to diagnosing a tumor in the early stages”.

Until now, ordering a biopsy to confirm a suspected malignancy after a dental check-up depended on the doctor’s clinical decision. For that reason, and to facilitate the process of assessing and diagnosing oral cavity tumors, MD Anderson Madrid has incorporated ‘VELscope’, a diagnostic tool that uses ultraviolet light to identify areas where there is a suspected pre-cancerous lesion in the early stages.

MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid is the first hospital in the country to incorporate the use of fluorescence to diagnose mouth cancer. This tool changes color when reflected on to mucous tissue and by means of image patterns described for highly suspicious lesions, the specialist can order a biopsy of the lesion with greater certainty than before”.

The technique is indicated as a general screening method, so all those people who may be susceptible to oral cavity cancer can benefit from its application. “So, we can avoid being aggressive when diagnosing small lesions in the mouth and achieve greater proximity to the real diagnosis”, Dr. Montesdeoca goes on.

Change in patterns of incidence of oral cavity cancer

Traditionally, the incidence of oral cavity cancer has always been linked to smoking and alcohol, and lip tumors to exposure to the sun in fair-skinned people. Nevertheless, over the last two decades a new factor that predisposes to this type of tumor has come onto the scene and is related to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

“As in the case of sexually transmitted diseases, HPV is transmitted by repeated contact, showing that certain serotypes of the virus can cause oral mucosa cell mutations and carcinoma”, says the head of MD Anderson Madrid Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Service.

For that reason, and as a general rule, specialists recommend a series of measures to prevent oral cavity cancer. “Avoiding risk factors like smoking and alcohol, using prophylactic measures during sexual relations and keeping dental prosthesis well fitted to prevent irritation are basic measures to prevent these tumors developing”, sums up Dr. Montesdeoca.