DaimlerChrysler (DCX) is the first major corporation in the U.S. to attack one of the deadliest forms of cancer by offering a new Delta Dental benefit, the OralCDx brush biopsy, to its 400,000 UAW employees and family members, announced Thomas J. Fleszar, D.D.S., M.S., president and chief executive officer of the affiliated Delta Dental Plans of Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. The benefit, effective immediately, is expected to prevent the development of oral cancer and improve the survival rates for those who develop the disease.
Each year, approximately 30,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer, and the disease claims as many lives as melanoma and more than cervical cancer. If found early, oral cancer can be cured, and if detected at the precancerous stage, oral cancer can be prevented.
Delta Dental Plan of Michigan (DDPMI), with its affiliated plans in Ohio and Indiana, is one of the first dental benefits providers in the nation to include the diagnostic tool as part of its standard benefits and DaimlerChrysler is the first DDPMI employer group to incorporate the benefit in its plan design.
"While our benefit programs have always covered traditional scalpel biopsies, and continue to do so, the brush biopsy represents a breakthrough in the fight against oral cancer," said Dr. Fleszar. "This simple, painless and inexpensive test will make a dramatic difference in improving the five-year survival rate for oral cancer, which has remained a dismal 57 percent for the past 40 years."
He added, "Further, it has the potential to significantly reduce medical treatment costs. I applaud DaimlerChrysler and the UAW for their commitment to improving the health of DCX workers and recognizing that an investment in oral health pays big dividends in overall health, well-being and productivity."
"It is gratifying to see DaimlerChrysler lead the way with this important benefit that will not only improve the oral health of its employees and their families, but also has the real potential to save lives," said Raymond Gist, DDS, president of the 5,700 member Michigan Dental Association. "As part of the health care team, dental professionals play an early role in cancer control, and early detection is the key to reducing the incidence of this terrible disease."
The brush biopsy is an important tool in cancer detection because it can catch oral cancer in its earliest stages or even before cancer can develop when cells look abnormal. Until the New York-based company, CDx Laboratories, Inc., developed the brush biopsy in 2000, scalpel biopsies of suspicious looking tissue were the only option for dentists and their patients. Too often, this is too late. Now, if dentists see unexplained red or white spots they feel need testing, they can use the tiny brush in the CDx kit to scrape cells from the= spots and send them to the company's high-tech laboratory for analysis. Most of these spots are harmless. However, about four to five percent may be cancerous or precancerous, and can then be referred for additional diagnostic tests and treatment.
"More than 160,000 OralCDx brush biopsies have been performed in the U.S.," said Mark Rutenberg, CEO and president of CDx Laboratories. "The test has already detected thousands of cases of unsuspected precancers and oral cancers at an early, more easily curable stage. The painless detection of early oral cancer is now possible, and many patients will soon realize that by visiting their dentists regularly, they will not only be protecting their teeth and gums, but also their lives. We are confident that the brush biopsy will allow the dental profession to have a significant impact in reversing the dismal prognosis from oral cancer."
To date, the OralCDx brush biopsy has been used to detect more than 5,000 precancers and cancers saving hundreds of lives in the U.S. by identifying oral cancer at an early treatable stage. When caught early, oral cancer can be cured and patient survival rates can dramatically increase to 81 percent.
Delta Dental, DCX and OralCDx are cooperating on a year-long study of brush biopsy use and outcomes among the represented workforce. This will add to the body of knowledge regarding the effectiveness of the diagnostic tool and is expected to underscore the value of dental benefits.
"Since many people visit their dentists more often than their primary physicians, dental professionals are in a unique position to detect oral cancer because they routinely perform thorough examinations of the mouth," said Dr. Fleszar. "In fact, a dental exam is important to an individual's health management because dentists are able to identify more than 120 diseases including HIV/AIDS, diabetes and anemia. At Delta Dental, we are committed to helping our members enhance their overall health by encouraging them to visit their dentist regularly."