During a recent visit to the dentist, I was offered an oral cancer screening using a product called ViziLite Plus (Zila Pharmaceuticals). Given a $65 price tag that is not covered by insurance, I accepted the marketing literature but politely declined the screening until I had a chance to do my own research. Apparently, everyone above the age of 18 is at an “increased risk” for oral cancer. I was then asked to sign a waiver (part of the Zila exam materials), which in my opinion, reeks of scare tactics.
As far as the details go, it seems you rinse with a dilute acetic acid solution, after which the dentist sticks a special light in your mouth to better see lesions that may be an indicator of oral cancer. According to the web site, unit price on the exam kit runs from $20-30. There are some interesting references to be found online:
Vizilite denied ADA seal of Approval [2005/11/10]
Kinda long, but very interesting:
listserv discussion of ViziLite [Bulletin Board of Oral Pathology, Nov 2005]
Short and to the point:
Efficacy of the ViziLite System in the Identification of Oral Lesions [abstract from Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, March 2007]
[Edit 2009/04/24: This entry was posted originally a year and a half ago and continues to receive feedback, which thrills me to no end. I am adding a link to a fairly recent article that discusses the subject more thoroughly. Please note that I have no affiliation with the web site, and the author of the article is not a dentist but a retired psychiatrist and consumer advocate.]
ViziLite Screening: Does It Make Sense? [Quackwatch, September 2008]
[Update 2011/02/16: Adding related link, info from Zila web site. I’m not sure what information is presented in patient brochures currently (it’s been a long time since I wrote my original post), but this is good information to have as a patient as opposed to telling everyone over 18 that they are at an increased risk for oral cancer without putting the statement into proper context.]
From the Zila Vizilite FAQ:
Because more than 25% of oral cancer victims have no lifestyle risk factors, many practices are now offering annual ViziLite exams to all adult patients (age 18 and older tobacco users of any age). Patients age 18 to 39 are at increased risk for oral cancer; Adults age 40 and older, and tobacco users of any age, are at high risk for oral cancer. Patients age 40 and older with lifestyle risk factors such as tobacco use, chronic alcohol use, diabetes, HIV an HPV 16/18 are at highest risk for oral cancer.
Regarding the profit issue, check out the Zila product training materials, specifically the “Revenue Production” section under “3. Incorporating Vizilite.” The video clip touts the benefit of increasing office revenue and notes a $20-32 cost for the test assuming patient charges ranging from $35-100.
Study questions effectiveness of oral cancer detection devices [DrBicuspid.com 2008/09/30]
[Update 2011/03/22: updated BBOP link (Nov 2005) as archives were moved]