Ministers urged to fund oral screening

An oral health charity is urging ministers to fund a nationwide NHS-led oral screening programme.

The British Dental Health Foundation (BDHF) has called on the government to act upon new research revealing that oral screenings can provide the all-important early detection that can save the lives of mny mouth cancer patients.

But chief dental officer Barry Cockcroft maintains that the Department of Health is already working with Cancer Research UK on
pilot projects in east London and north-east London where health experts are alerting patients to predisposing symptoms such as persisting
mouth ulcers or red or white patches in the mouth that are painful, swollen
or bleeding.
The DoH has apparently contributed funding of £100,000 to these projects which are currently being

The BDHF’s call follows a report, published in the World Health Organization (WHO) bulletin, which found visual oral screening an effective low-cost measure in preventing mouth cancer, which kills one person every five hours in the UK.

The research, led by RTI International, showed how early detection of mouth cancer was near-doubled by routine visual screenings.

BDHF chief executive Dr Nigel Carter said: ‘This report confirms our message that prevention and early detection are key to curbing the effects of oral cancer.

‘Early detection leads to survival 9 in 10 mouth cancer patients. With nearly 5,000 people diagnosed each year in the UK, investment in NHS screening would be a real lifesaver.’

The new research studied 160,000 people in Southern India and found that targeting high-risk groups of alcohol and tobacco users during a nine-year screening programme cost as little as $6 per person.

Early detection was achieved in 42% of cases where routine screening took place, almost twice the 24% ratio in cases not taking part in screening programmes.

Smoking and chewing tobacco and the likes of paan and guthka place people at considerable risk.

The chief dental officer added: ‘We share the BDHF’s concern about the number of people dying from oral
cancer. The best means of reducing mortality it is through oral health
promotion campaigns targeted at people most at risk  – smokers who are also
heavy drinkers – and encouraging these people to see a dentist or other
health care professional if they have predisposing symptoms  of the

‘There are already encouraging signs that well-targeted
advertising through local radio, the press and posters and leaflets can
result in people presenting earlier with symptoms of oral cancer. The
evaluation will be shared with the UK National Screening Committee, which
will be giving further consideration to screening for oral cancer later
this year.’

At last year’s Mouth Cancer Action Week launch, WHO oral cancer expert Dr Saman Warnakulasuriya called for dentists to be given greater powers to prescribe smoking cessation treatments.

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