Cancer: the worst word in our vocabulary. Don’t underplay your lifesaving role

by Blog, Communications

Cancer: the worst word in our vocabulary. Don’t underplay your lifesaving role    By Zac Fine. January 25, 2017.

You probably saw the news last year that mouth cancer rates have soared 68 per cent since 1996. A study published this week in the journal JAMA Oncology found a quarter of men in the US have a type of genital human papillomavirus (HPV) that’s linked to cancer.

Assuming the same trend is happening in the UK, it looks like more oral sex is to blame for the rise in oral cancer rather than the usual reasons given: smoking, alcohol and poor diet. The types of HPV found in the mouth are almost entirely sexually transmitted, and around 25 per cent of mouth cancers are HPV-related.

We’ve been steadily smoking less and less for years so it can’t be tobacco, and while one in four Brits is now obese, I don’t see why being fat means you never eat salad. It might be the booze though — deaths from liver disease have reached record levels.

Given that survival rates for oral cancer have not improved in 20 years, late diagnosis is an increasingly urgent problem. That seems strange given that dentists do oral cancer checks in their consultations, but remember that half of adults still aren’t seeing a dentist, and dentists see few if any cases of mouth cancer during their whole careers, so they might not know what they’re looking at (only about 7,500 people are diagnosed each year in the UK). The BDA and Cancer Research UK made a toolkit to help you with this.

What’s really interesting is that 60 per cent of people are not even aware that their dentist is actually checking them for mouth cancer. This feels like a missed opportunity, and I wonder whether dental professionals could be mentioning when they are doing the check and asking their patient if they have had any symptoms like a lump in their mouth that won’t go away, a white patch or an ulcer.

That’s all. That little bit more communication might be lifesaving, maybe not just to your patient but to someone else they talk to, and at the very least it will strengthen the bond of trust between you.


“60% of people aren’t aware their dentist is checking for mouth cancer”

Zac Fine, content director

Author: Zac Fine