An American diagnostics firm CDx Laboratories Inc. is pitching what it claims is a unique diagnostic tool for detecting oral cancer to the Indian Dental Association (IDA), the professional body for dentists, in a bid to popularize the kit among the country’s dentists. The dental association is interested because it doesn’t have any diagnostic tool for detecting oral cancer (the company claims OralCDx, its product, is the only one of its kind).
“Oral cancers are commonly seen in dental practice but by the time we see them it is already too late,” said Dr Ashok Dhoble, honorary secretary general of IDA.
OralCDx, its maker claims, can help dentists remove samples of dental tissue without incision, making it possible for them to test for cancers early on. “Currently, we diagnose cancers mostly on clinical examination and the initial findings are confirmed by a biopsy,” added Sanjay Joshi, honorary joint secretary of IDA.
CDx Laboratories launched its product, based on ‘brush biopsy process’, a few years ago in the United States, but the product isn’t widely available in markets such as India. According to IDA, over 90,000 new cases of oral cancer are detected every year, with the condition killing 50,000 Indians annually. “The test will be launched in India in August. We will train over 1,000 dentists across the country on how to use this technology,” said Dr Mark Rutenberg, CEO, CDx Laboratories.
Rutenberg added that the test could help doctors detect lesions even three years before they become cancerous.
Doctors usually order a clinical examination when lesions don’t heal, or there is a thickening of tissue or a lump in the mouth but by then, the cancer is likely to have reached an advanced stage.
A biopsy involves the surgical removal of a sample of tissue from the body for examination. In comparison, the new technique does not necessitate making any incision and only involves ‘brushing off’ the tissue for analysis. The tissue is then sent to a laboratory where it is analysed using an advanced scanning technology. The results, for Indian patients, will be sent back to the company’s Indian outfit where its pathologists will interpret it and pass it on to the doctors.
“This technology can revolutionize diagnosis of oral cancers and can potentially bring down the number of deaths because of earlier detection, much in the same way as Pap smears reduced the number of cervical cancer deaths among women in the developed world,” said Dhoble. Pap smears are tests where cervical tissue is brushed off rather than surgically removed.
The main concern now for IDA officials is to be able to make the oral cancer test cost-effective. “We are talking to the company on how we can procure the kits at a reasonable cost,” said Joshi. Currently, biopsies cost Rs500-1,500. Joshi hoped the new tests can be priced at par if not lower than biopsies, though Rutenberg said the test could be available for Rs2,000-Rs3,000.
However, there are other issues which cannot be tackled despite this tool. “Incidence of oral cancer is high among tobacco chewers and it is the lower socio-economic strata that is more prone to chewing tobacco as a habit,” said Dhoble. “This segment will anyway ignore early symptoms and only see a doctor when the disease has already progressed considerably,” he added.