VELscope used to screen Olympic athletes for oral cancer

Feb. 18, 2010
Oral cancer screening device chosen to examine world's top athletes at 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

WHITE ROCK, British Columbia--LED Dental has announced that the VELscope oral cancer screening system is being used to conduct oral cancer screenings for up to 800 athletes at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The International Olympic Committee mandated that 20% of athletes--up from 10% four years ago--receive a comprehensive examination to include a screening for oral cancer. The device selected to conduct the screenings is the VELscope system, which was developed in British Columbia by LED Dental in collaboration with the British Columbia Cancer Agency.

The VELscope has been used to conduct an estimated 3 million screenings in the past year.

During the Vancouver Games, a team of 72 dentists and volunteer assistants is anticipated to have approximately 800 athletes sit in their dental chairs not only for oral cancer screenings, but for everything from routine dental care to trauma surgery.

Dr. Jack Taunton, co-chief medical officer of the Games, said athletes are so nomadic they tend to defer dental care. So Dr. Taunton is hoping many of them take advantage of the care they can get while in Vancouver and Whistler.

"Year-round, the alpine athletes follow winter around the world to train, and they are at higher risk of lip and mouth cancers because of the altitude and sun exposure," he said.

"The skin on the lips is thin and poorly protected. The damage is cumulative and you have to consider they are exposed to these intense ultraviolet rays for up to 30 years, through their training and post-competitive coaching years in many cases."

Moreover, some athletes in Nordic events chew tobacco, which contains numerous carcinogens that can cause oral cancers. The dentists will screen them for cancerous and precancerous lesions using the VELscope, a device that emits a special blue light inside the mouth to help detect suspect tissue that needs further investigation.

"It's a terrific adjunctive visual tool being integrated more and more into general dentistry practices," said Dr. Chris Zed, associate dean of dentistry at the University of British Columbia and co-head of dental services for the 2010 Games.

Once athletes are in the dental chairs, they will also receive education about the importance of wearing sunscreen to prevent oral cancers. Alpine sports athletes who train year-round at high elevations are especially prone to damaging ultraviolet rays, raising the risk of developing skin and lip cancers.

The problem is compounded by the additional reflection of ultraviolet radiation off the snow and ice. Zed points to a German study that showed outdoor athletes seem unaware of the elevated cancer risks associated with their training.

VELscope exams take only a few minutes, and are free of any pain to patients. To learn more about the VELscope, or to find dental practices that offer VELscope exams, visit VELscope.

To read more about VELscope, go to VELscope.

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