Detecting Oral Cancer

Oral cancer detecting smartphone device could save lives

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Oral cancer - which occurs in any part of the mouth - is one of the most common cancers in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and other parts of South Asia. But diagnosing the disease is hampered by the fact that there are very few dentists in these areas.

A scanning device that can be attached to any smartphone is being developed at Stanford University to offer an low-cost way to detect oral cancer at its earliest and most treatable stages.

"Visit your dentist regularly to maintain oral health."

Oral cancers account for about 40 percent of cancer-related deaths in India. And many of these could be prevented if there were an easy way to diagnose the disease before it's too late to treat. 

This is the problem that inspired Stanford assistant bioengineering professor, Manu Prakash, PhD, to develop an inexpensive device that can take detailed pictures to screen for oral cancer.

This scanner, which is called OScan, is about the size of a pack of gum and can attach to any smartphone camera to take high-resolution images of the entire oral cavity. No medical training is needed to use it.

The device includes a way to position it in the mouth, a circuit board and fluorescent LEDs (light-emitting diodes).

Suspicious spots or lesions appear as dark spots on the images, which can be sent wirelessly to healthcare workers, dentists or oral surgeons anywhere in the world for diagnosis.

Once perfected, the OScan is estimated to cost only a few dollars to manufacture.

Prakash has taken the prototype device to India for field testing. "The feedback we got from surgeons who see patients every day, and from cancer screening clinics in rural parts of South India, shaped the project," he said.

The simplicity and elegance of the device earned Prakash and his team the mHealth Alliance Award and the Vodaphone Americas Foundation Wireless Innovation Project, which includes a cash award of $250,000. 

With this funding, Prakash plans to do more field testing and wants to partner with wireless service and health insurance companies to provide screenings and tobacco education in areas that have few resources.

The OScan project was funded by the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation, which supports the translation of ideas that address unmet medical needs into treatments and devices that improve human health.

Stanford University has filed for a patent on this technology.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 26, 2012
Last Updated:
April 26, 2012