No matter the type of cancer, an early-stage diagnosis is paramount to ensuring patient survival. For many, the journey to a diagnosis begins with a screening. Cancer screening is not intended to make an official diagnosis; however, these assessments can achieve two significant goals: to downstage the disease and reduce mortality rates.1 While some cancers are naturally more detectable than others, oral cancer is notoriously difficult to diagnose in the early stages. This is, in part, due to the inability of current screening methods to consistently and accurately identify malignancies.

Evaluating standard screening protocols

The industry-standard screening method is the visual oral examination (VOE), which uses both visual and tactile assessments to search the oral cavity and neck for abnormal tissue growth or oral potentially malignant disorders (OPMDs).1 Some providers may choose to supplement these examinations with light-based technology and/or oral rinses to more clearly distinguish between benign and malignant neoplasms, as well as other inflammatory conditions. If available, screenings may also include:2

  • Toluidine blue staining
  • Autofluorescence
  • Chemiluminescence
  • Cytology
  • Narrow band imaging

Despite newer technology, these adjunctive methods have yet to demonstrate more powerful detection capabilities than the VOE.2 They can identify the presence of a lesion, but fail to accurately specify which type. In addition to the high rate of false positives, these screening adjuncts are often costly, complex, and may give rise to unwanted side effects.2

Characterizing the ideal screening method

Even with the most recent screening technology, the VOE remains the gold standard in oral cancer detection. However, the lack of early stage symptom recognition poses a threat to screening success and patient outcomes. In order to reliably detect oral cancer before it enters stages III and IV, providers must have access to a screening technique that:

  • Can be used at the point of care during routine check-ups
  • Is cost-effective, non-invasive, and relatively fast
  • Takes into account lifestyle factors for individualized assessment
  • Accurately determines the risk of oral cancer based on biomarkers

Where older methods have failed to measure up, new innovations — including those leveraging salivary biomarker analysis — are emerging as game-changers in oral cancer detection. Vigilant Biosciences®® is leading the way in oral cancer innovation with clinically proven, data-driven risk assessment solutions that meet both patient and provider needs to ultimately improve outcomes.

Learn more about how Vigilant Biosciences®® is transforming oral cancer detection technology.


1. Warnakulasuriya, S., & Kerr, A.R. (2021). Oral Cancer Screening: Past, Present, and Future. Journal of Dental Research 100(12), 1313-1320.
2. Kim, D.H., Kim, S.W., & Hwang, S.H. (2022). Efficacy of non-invasive diagnostic methods in the diagnosis and screening of oral cancer and precancer. Brazilian Journal of Otorhinolaryngology 88(6), 937-947.