Knowledge of oral cancer dangerously low

It's surprising how little people know about oral cancer.
It’s surprising how little people know about oral cancer.

According The Australian Bureau of Statistics 700 people died in 2011 from malignant cancers of the lip, oral cavity and pharynx, over twice the rate of cervical cancer, yet few in the community or medical professions are aware that it was often preventable.

Researchers, Dr Mahmoud Bakr and Emma Skerman from the Griffith University School of Dentistry and Oral Health completed a survey of dental students, dentists as well as community members who attended the Griffith Health dental clinics and found very few patients were aware of oral cancers, how they emerge and how they can be prevented.

“Dental students do learn about Oral Cancers, but Medical students only get a cancer overview, unless they specialise. The general public clearly has not been informed.

“First of all the community needs to know that Oral cancer exists, secondly people need to learn how to test for oral cancer. If people suspect anything abnormal in their mouth, they need to go to a dentist not a General Medical Practitioner for an oral cancer screen, said Dr Bakr.

“The information is out there, but just needs to be promoted.”

The situation isn’t unique to Australia. A recent survey undertaken by British Dental Health Foundation has revealed an alarming lack of awareness about the causes and symptoms of mouth cancer. The answers from over 1,000 members of the public who were questioned in the survey for Mouth Cancer Action Month reveal that there is only limited knowledge and understanding of this potentially deadly disease. One person in 10 claimed not even to have heard of mouth cancer.

“Every day, at least three Australians are being diagnosed with oral cancer. Survival rates for oral cancer remain low despite advances in treatment and this can be attributed to late detection. Recognising the risk factors and signs of oral cancer is vital to better prognosis and outcomes,” Chairman of the ADA’s Oral Health Committee, Dr Peter Alldritt, told Bite recently.

“Early detection of oral cancer can save lives, so it’s important to know what you should be looking out for in your mouth. Ulcers or lumps in the mouth which do not heal within two weeks should be treated with suspicion. Smoking, alcohol, poor diet, sun exposure and the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) all contribute to a person’s risk of presenting with oral cancer,” says Dr Alldritt.

Dr Bakr and Ms Skerman (a 5th year dentistry student) have looked at previous campaigns and new information modes, like social media, to find the best way to raise awareness. Dr Bakr thinks simpler methods could kick off a movement like displaying posters in dental clinics, handing out pamphlets or booklets, or events like an oral cancer screening day.

“An oral cancer-screening day, conducted by a Dental Clinic could raise awareness of oral cancer, in the broader community. A similar day kicked off awareness in Ireland when a screening was done at Dublin University.

“They also found five cases of preventable cancer.”

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