Screening and early detection of oral cancer in the dental setting in Victoria

Screening and early detection of oral cancer in the dental setting in Victoria

Oral cancer is on the rise in Victoria. Dental Health Services Victoria is leading a new program which supports health professionals to promote prevention and enable earlier detection.

In 2018, 746 Victorians were diagnosed with oral cancer – that’s over 14 people diagnosed every week. With the incidence of oral cancer rising in Victoria a pilot training program for oral health professionals has been implemented to help reduce the impact of the disease. This program is also predicted to empower oral health professionals to discuss modifiable risk factors with patients and support them to make healthy changes.

Opportunistic screening is the best way to detect oral cancer early. Oral cancer screening by an oral health professional takes only a short time and is an integral element of routine care. Every patient should be screened regularly, not just those at higher risk.

The pilot training program was implemented by Dental Health Services Victoria in partnership with The University of Melbourne, Latrobe University and the Australian Dental Association Victorian Branch. Over 170 oral health professionals across 16 community dental agencies and private dental practices participated in the pilot training, which assessed oral health professionals’ knowledge of oral cancer before and after training. Findings from the pilot will be used to develop training and resources to help Victorian clinicians confidently detect, record and refer suspicious lesions at an early stage, when treatment for oral cancer will be most effective.

It is anticipated that this program will have a significant impact for Victorians, with a change in health professional's behaviour leading to an increased number of early stage oral cancer diagnoses and simultaneous decreased number of advanced stage oral cancer diagnoses. Through the development of a thorough prevention, screening and early detection program with clear referral pathways, a person’s treatment and prognosis can be enormously improved or the disease avoided altogether.

For more information, contact program lead Kym Lang.

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