290710 Richard Beckermer, US dentist and member of the Uniting Hands organisation, polishes Mariam Msomi's (78) teeth at Vumengazi Traditional Court yesterday.

London - A revolutionary technique could allow dentists to diagnose oral cancer in under 20 minutes.

The test involves collecting cells from a patient’s mouth using a brush then generating a rapid reading from a desktop computer.

Currently, biopsy testing for a suspicious lesion means mouth tissue has to be taken using a scalpel, then sent off to a lab for analysis.

Professor Martin Thornhill from the University of Sheffield, working with researchers from Rice University in the US, is leading a two-year trial at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals which could result in the technique becoming standard practice.

At present patients have an average survival rate of 50 percent, but if cancer is detected early more than 90 percent live longer than five years.

Professor Thornill said: “There is no pain, no local anaesthetic, the patient does not have to make multiple visits.”

He hopes the technology could also be adapted for detecting heart attacks or testing a driver for drugs at the roadside. - Daily Mail