Early detection can save a person’s life

In 2020, 847 Victorians were diagnosed with oral cancer and 179 people died from it. Oral health professionals have a vital part to play in the prevention and early detection of oral cancer.


Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)

Why screen?

Oral cancer in its early stages is usually painless, with few obvious signs or symptoms. While treatment is most effective at this point, unfortunately oral cancer often remains undiagnosed until it has spread into lymph nodes and other organs. As a result, prognosis is poor. Floor of the mouth cancers are decreasing now fewer people are smoking. However, tongue cancer is on the rise; as is oropharyngeal cancer, a proportion of which is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.

A strong socioeconomic gradient exists, with people in low income groups at higher risk of oral cancer and late diagnosis. Victorian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are twice as likely to be diagnosed than non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Part of routine care

Regular screening at dental appointments is the best way to identify patients at risk and detect oral cancer early. Systematic inspection of the oral cavity, head and neck is an integral part of routine care for every patient and takes only a short time. It is not optional; it is our responsibility. Every member of the dental team has a vital part to play.

You may be concerned about alarming patients. However, research shows that patients want to be told what is happening in the chair and most will be willing to talk about oral cancer risk and prevention with you. Take this opportunity to raise awareness about oral cancer with your patients. Ask them to contact you immediately if they notice any changes in their mouth that haven’t healed within two weeks.

“With earlier diagnosis, a person’s treatment and prognosis can be enormously improved”

Professor Michael McCullough, The University of Melbourne Dental School
Last updated: April 2023