We can halt rise in mouth cancer

Dentists detect around three quarters of all oral cancer referrals according to The British Dental Health Foundation, which is behind Mouth Cancer Action Month in November.

Dr Taher Rashid, a private dentist in Farnham, Surrey, said: 'A valuable opportunity is being lost because in most cases the disease is already metastatic when it is diagnosed.

'Dentists are best placed to protect the public against this threat, but too many victims are not getting proper checks. People are unlikely to detect this disease themselves as it is often impossible for them to see and may not cause pain.'

Rates of mouth cancer have increased by nearly 50% in the last decade and more than 7,500 people will be diagnosed with the disease this year in the UK (British Dental Health Foundation).

The General Dental Council (GDC) added oral cancer detection as a recommended subject for Continuing Professional Development (CPD) last year after being asked to do so by the Government in 2011.

Failure to do 250 hours of CPD in a five year cycle can see dentists deregistered and unable to practise. However, the GDC has no plans to make 'Oral Cancer: Improving Early Detection' a core topic in consultations on CPD this December and it has no powers to introduce mandatory topics.

Head of health information at Cancer Research UK Hazel Nunn said: 'We would like the recommendations to go further, for oral cancer detection and prevention to be amongst the top priorities for dentists' professional development.'

Victims diagnosed when mouth cancer has already spread to surrounding tissue stand a one in five chance of living for at five years or more (NHS).

Despite it being an uncommon type of cancer, accounting for 1 in 50 of all cases, it kills more people than cervical cancer or melanoma skin cancer. Many of these deaths could be prevented if the cancer was caught earlier.

Dr Rashid added: 'People who smoke, drink and have poor diets are more at risk of this disease, so dentists should be asking about their patients' habits.

'Digital photography is also crucial for monitoring the condition of the mouth over time and identifying any changes during review appointments.

'As this problem is getting worse, I have published a ŒTrust Checklist so people can be confident their dentist will detect early signs of mouth cancer.' The Trust Checklist and video can be found at www.timedental.co.uk/blog/.

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