New way to fight oral cancer

October 1, 2008 6:57:29 AM PDT
More than 34-thousand Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year. Unfortunately, about half the people diagnosed die because it's detected too late.

Now, a new treatment may give doctors a way to stop oral cancer before it starts.

They're often detected in a routine dental or doctor's exam. Red or white lesions called leukoplakia that can turn into serious, even deadly oral cancers.

"I do happen to know people that have died of this kind of cancer and so we watch it very closely," Mike Hagerman said.

A former smoker, Hagerman is a two-time oral cancer survivor.

His battle against leukoplakia is back. This time, he's part of a study testing a new photodynamic laser treatment designed to eliminate precancerous cells.

"And when the laser fires onto the lesion, it emits light at a very specific frequency that causes free oxygen radicals that destroy the lesion," said Stuart Wong, an oncologist at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Tested on the hand or used in the mouth on actual lesions, researchers say the laser doesn't hurt. It's a preventive measure that doctor say could save lives.

"There is some emerging data that the better we can kill off these early precancerous lesions, that that might translate later down the road many, many years to a decreasing in the development of cancers and that's the goal," Wong said.

Oral cancer has a five year survival rate of less than 50-percent.

Doctors say early detection can be crucial. Check your mouth regularly. If you see a red or white spot or feel something irregular, get it checked immediately.

"I'm gonna have to be aware of it for the rest of my life," Hagerman said.

He hopes with good medical care and a little vigilance, he can stay cancer free.

If you are interested in learning more, ask your doctor about photodynamic laser treatment .

You can also contact the Medical College of Wisconsin at (414) 456-4700.

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