Stanford University researchers have created a low-cost oral cavity scanner and mobile phone attachment that is capable of making snapshots of suspicious mouth lesions and assist health workers in oral cancer screening.
Oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer with some 300,000 cases recorded worldwide every year.
Approximately 62% of cases arise in developing countries due to rising tobacco and alcohol use, as well as poor healthcare infrastructure.
There are existing mHealth strategies seeking to fill the gap in oral cancer prevention.
Some of these involve using teledental intraoral camera operators who conduct remote assessments and providing online training to non-professional health workers to conduct mouth examinations.
These field workers can benefit from tools such as OScan, an oral scanner that can easily attach to a mobile phone.
How does the OScan oral mHealth scanner work?
Developed by Stanford University’s Prakash Lab, the device is designed to be a low-cost but effective diagnostic tool against mouth conditions.
OScan consists of a mouthpiece, a circuit board, a camera mount, and two rows of fluorescent-light-emitting diodes.
Upper and lower bite guides are spaced apart to open the oral cavity as the patient bites into the mouth piece.
The blue light from the LED illuminate the oral cavity and the camera takes panoramic shots. Potentially malignant lesion appear as dark spots in the images.
The peripheral mHealth device costs a few dollars to make and requires minimal training to use.
A patient at home or a health worker in the field only needs a mobile phone to operate the device.
A simple sweeping motion from side to side while taking a photo is all that needs to be done to capture images, which can be sent wirelessly from remote locations to dentists and oral surgeons for evaluation.
The research team says the device can serve as a rapid diagnostic tool in place of x-rays and as a reliable monitoring tool to track oral lesions over time.
“Current methodology to document lesions found in oral cancer patients are based on manual sketches and are insufficient for conveying quantitative information to either the clinician or the patient. Such sketches used to document the progress of a lesion must be relied upon by radiotherapists to determine if a therapy is successful on many rural patients,”
wrote the researchers in a patent filing.
“A standardized oral cavity scanner would allow for a quantitative method for clinicians to track the progress of the lesions in individual patients before and during therapy”.
OScan has undergone trials as a mHealth dental screening tool in India where a shortfall of trained dentists and doctors has compounded the problem of high rates of oral cancer.
Oral cancer is responsible for an estimated 40% of total cancer deaths in the country.
Many cases of oral cancer are detected in late stages when it can be fatal. Despite advances in radiation, surgery and chemotherapy, the survival rate for oral cancer remains at 57%.
Health experts know that early detection is key to preventing this disease, but this proves difficult with the lack of resources in developing countries, where two-thirds of oral cancer cases exist.
Compared to 20 per 100,000 people in India, and 10 per 100,000 population in the U.S., the incidence of oral cancer in the Middle East is a relatively low 2 cases per 100,000.
However, a multi-center, retrospective study in the UAE published in 2013 reveals that oral cancer is not at all uncommon in the country, and recommended intensified oral cancer screening to decrease the incidence of the disease.