Better Screening of Oral Cancer in India

Petra Wilder-Smith

Better Screening of Oral Cancer in India


Worldwide, oral cancer is the sixth-most common cancer-related cause of death, killing almost a quarter-million people each year. In low-resource nations such as India, which has the planet’s highest burden of oral cancer, the situation is more acute, primarily due to limited awareness of the issue and – for the poor – limited access to specialized care. In some parts of India, the disease kills more people than anything else. Yet survival rates are excellent if oral cancer is quickly identified.

To increase early detection, Dr. Petra Wilder-Smith of UCI’s Beckman Laser Institute has partnered with the Mazumdar Shaw Cancer Center in Bangalore, India, to develop and test a low-cost, portable screening device that fieldworkers can use. The technology is enabling people – many of whom rarely see dentists – to receive timely diagnoses and care to dramatically improve their outcomes.

Slightly larger than a shoebox, the device can create detailed laser images of oral lesions that are sent via mobile phone to the cancer center. Over the last year, UCI teams have traveled to India with a prototype to test on patients. They screened some 12,000 people, identifying 1,200 with or at high risk of imminently developing oral cancer. Wilder-Smith says these efforts are promising, and her group is gearing up for a larger campaign across the vast nation. “We’re in conversations with several foundations and government groups to explore ways of expanding this program quickly – with the goal of saving thousands of lives,” she says.