Step 1: the “white light” exam. The VELscope exam is actually the second step in a comprehensive oral cancer exam. The first step is a conventional “white light” exam in which the dentist or hygienist looks for lesions in the oral cavity with the naked eye and uses palpation to feel for any bumps in the neck or face. This generally takes about 3 minutes.
Step 2: the VELscope exam. The VELscope handpiece emits a safe blue light into the oral cavity, causing tissue fluorescence from the surface of the epithelium through to the basement membrane, where pre-malignant changes typically start, and in the stroma beneath. The special, patented optical filtering in the handpiece allows the clinician to immediately view the different fluorescence signatures from the oral tissue to help differentiate between normal and abnormal tissue. Abnormal tissue, such as dysplasia or cancerous lesions, typically appear as irregular, dark areas that stand out against the otherwise normal, green fluorescence pattern of surrounding healthy tissue. This technology thus helps dental practitioners identify potentially dangerous growths that might have been missed with the naked eye, yet this exam takes only 2-to-3 minutes.
Step 3: Surgical biopsy. If the clinician does detect anything of concern during the VELscope exam, the next step will likely be a surgical biopsy. Only when the results of the biopsy are read by an oral pathologist can the condition of the tissue be diagnosed. In the worst case the diagnosis could be oral cancer, but in most cases the diagnosis will be precancer or some other much less serious form of abnormality.