New Survey Shows Patients Want Oral Cancer Screenings

May 10, 2017
Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN

A national survey conducted by Vigilant Biosciences, in collaboration with the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance, Oral Cancer Foundation, and Support for People with Oral and Head and Neck Cancer, shows the majority of adults living in the U.S. want their dentists to screen for oral cancer during visits.

The online survey asked 500 adults age 18 — 75 about their knowledge and perceptions of oral cancer and screening efforts.

The majority of people surveyed — 62% - admitted to knowing very little to nothing about oral cancer. Only 29% of those surveyed stated their dentists actually performed an oral cancer screening at their last dental checkup.

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A full 81% of survey respondents indicated they wanted their dentists to screen them for oral cancer at every dental visit. Most people polled were interested in simple screening tools that could test for early indicators of oral cancer, and 79% of respondents would like the option of being screened for oral cancer using a test that collected cell samples via a saline rinse.

People also want more education from their dentists. Over 77% of survey respondents were interested in learning the ways they could help to reduce their risk of developing oral cancer. The results of the survey showed that there is a great disparity between the public’s knowledge of oral cancer risks and actual risk factors. For instance, less than half of those surveyed — 41% - were able to identify human papillomavirus (HPV) as a risk factor for oral cancer. For those that were already diagnosed with HPV prior to the survey, only 36% considered themselves to be at greater risk for developing cancer. Only 17% of respondents were aware that up to 40% of people diagnosed with oral cancer die within five years of diagnosis.

Dentists are in prime position to discuss oral cancer risk factors and the ways in which a patient can help reduce their likelihood of developing the disease. Less than 5% of those polled had previously discussed the relationship between HPV and oral cancer with their dentist, and only 20% said their dentists had spoken with them about risk factors for oral cancer. Dentists can help their patients by offering educational opportunities, reviewing risk factors specific to each patient, and taking steps to actively screen for oral cancer.

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