NHS England will use a £1 million grant to create a pain-free and non-invasive method to detect mouth cancer.
Once developed and tested, the device could help healthcare professionals – including dentists – detect mouth cancer earlier and more accurately.
The device will use electrical impedance spectroscopy (EIS), the same method used in the early process of detecting cervical cancer.
It is hoped the method will scrap the need for invasive biopsies and provide better results for patients – as well as slashing NHS costs.
Last year, more than 8,300 people were diagnosed with mouth cancer – a 49% spike in cases in the last decade alone. This means mouth cancer is one of the few cancers that is on the rise.
Dr Nigel Carter OBE is chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation. He believes the device could potentially save millions of lives.
‘A person’s chances of beating mouth cancer rely on how quickly it is diagnosed and treated,’ he said.
‘Sadly, survival rates of mouth cancer have barely improved in the last 20 years. This is because most cases are caught too late.
‘Having a biopsy can be a painful and traumatic experience. Any device that can accurately diagnose mouth cancer while at the same time removing anxiety should be supported.’
He added: ‘There is a real and urgent need to find new ways of diagnosing mouth cancer. This new device has the potential to make an important contribution to the care and management of mouth cancer.
‘By speeding up the process of diagnosis, you can move on to treatment much earlier. Not only does this give somebody a better chance of survival, it will also improve their quality of life.’
The team developing the device hopes it will soon be ready for testing, with a bigger aim of kicking off a full clinical trial in the next 12 months.
‘Electrical impedance spectroscopy could help us to diagnose oral cancer earlier and more accurately, even when these cell changes may not be visually apparent,’ said Dr Keith Hunter, professor of head and neck pathology at the University of Sheffield’s school of clinical dentistry.
‘This could reduce the need for biopsies where there is no disease indicated – helping us to reduce patient anxiety and improve patient comfort.
‘Hopefully developing less invasive techniques of diagnosing oral cancer will encourage more people to come forward with oral problems.’
Last year, more than 2,700 people in the UK lost their life to mouth cancer. This amounts to around seven people every day.
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