Oral cancer prevention program

By Jamie Salter

With worrying reports that one-in-five Australian households are buying more alcohol since the COVID-19 outbreak, Dental Health Services Victoria is leading a new program to promote prevention and earlier detection of oral cancer.

Oral cancer is six times more common in alcohol drinkers than in non-drinkers, and regular consumption significantly increases the risk of oral cancer.

Dental Health Services Victoria chief executive officer Susan McKee said every week in Victoria, five people die from oral cancer and more than 14 people are diagnosed.

“While some types of oral cancer are decreasing now that people are smoking less, tongue and oropharyngeal cancers are on the rise,” she said.

“We want to support oral health professionals in the state to identify people most at risk and reduce the impact of this disease on Victorians.”

A DHSV training and information program is being developed this year and will be offered to all Victorian oral health professionals to recognise risk factors and detect oral cancer early.

A key partner in the program, University of Melbourne Dental School professor Michael McCullough said early detection could save lives.

“This program will equip oral health professionals with the skills to detect early signs of oral cancer,” Prof McCullough said.

“Oral cancer screening takes only a short time and is an integral element of routine care.”

Treatment for oral cancer can be more effective at an early stage of the disease yet oral cancer is often diagnosed late, resulting in one-in-three people dying of it within five years.

People over the age of 45, especially men, are at increased risk, as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and people in low income groups.

The Oral Cancer Screening and Prevention Program is funded by the Department of Health and Human Services under the Victorian Cancer Plan.

The program is led by Dental Health Services Victoria in partnership with the University of Melbourne Dental School, the Australian Dental Association (Victorian Branch), La Trobe University Department of Dentistry and the Department of Health and Human Services.