Objective: To survey two broad areas of oral cancer awareness and management of patients at risk of oral cancer by specialists in oral surgery, oral medicine, surgical dentistry and general dental practitioners (GDPs) in the UK. The first of these included knowledge and awareness of aetiological factors, changing patterns of disease, and screening/detection programmes including their effectiveness. The second included oral cancer detection methods, advice on avoidance of high-risk activity and self-examination, and referral pattern of GDPs.
Design and method: A pretested, 44-item questionnaire, a covering letter, a brief outline of the research protocol and return, stamped envelope were mailed in March 2003. A sample of 200 GDPs whose names were obtained from the General Dental Council's main list and 305 dental specialist names obtained from specialist's list in surgical dentistry, oral medicine and oral surgery were selected randomly. Information on oral cancer awareness and practice, screening practice and education was obtained.
Results: The response rate was 66.9%. The knowledge of the dental specialists was consistent with that in reports of current aetiological studies on oral cancer. However there were gaps in the GDP's knowledge and ascertainment of oral cancer risk factors. Over 70% of the dental specialists provided counselling advice on the risks of tobacco and alcohol habits compared with 41.2% of GDPs. More GDPs (52.4%) than specialists (35.4%) believed that oral cancer screening on a national basis would be effective in decreasing the mortality of oral cancer. Over 95% of all respondents used a visual examination for oral cancer screening and 89.9% of all respondents strongly believed that visual screening is effective in the early detection of oral cancer.
Conclusion: The results showed that GDPs had knowledge gaps in their awareness of oral cancer risk factors and the application of preventive measures. Most dental health providers in the UK perform visual screening of the oral mucosa for their patients. Opinion was equivocal as to whether a nationally based screening programme similar to cervical cancer would be effective in improving the mortality and morbidity of oral cancer.