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In what may be a significant development in the detection and treatment of oral cancer, researchers based in India have created a system that will allow medical practitioners to identify and diagnose premalignant tumors in the mouth.

Known as the Screen Tool for Oral Premalignancies (STOP), the scoring method marks certain types of physical symptoms that, in tandem, can be a sign that oral cancer may be developing. These include mucosal changes, initial ulcers, persistent sores and white lesions.

The purpose, the researchers wrote in an article published earlier this month in industry journal Oral Oncology, was to supplement other detection methods that failed to identify tumors before they became a serious concern.

"Due to the varied clinical presentation of early lesions, many cases are missed at the general health care setting," the authors wrote in the magazine. "If these cases could be picked up at their early asymptomatic stage, better preventive strategies can be instituted, before they progress to advanced malignancies."

The scientists performed a simple clinical study of their method, when 255 patients, 135 of whom had preexisting oral issues. Those that tested Level 4 – meaning that they met all criteria for premalignant sores on the STOP scale – all had histories of alcohol and tobacco consumption.

According to the researchers, the next step involves a more diversified system that can be used in a variety of surroundings, including pay-for-visit clinics and hospitals.

While detection methods are improving, it doesn't change the fact that people need to brush and floss regularly in order to reduce the risk of oral cancer. Yearly visits to an affordable dental care professional are necessary parts of of keeping mouths looking pearly white.

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