Oral cancer is six times more common in alcohol drinkers than in non-drinkers. With worrying reports that one in five Australian households are buying more alcohol since the COVID-19 outbreak, the marking of today as World Head and Neck Cancer Day (27 July) is an opportunity for Victorian oral health professionals to reflect on their important role in the prevention and early detection of oral cancer.
Regular consumption of alcohol significantly increases the risk of oral cancer. If a person smokes and drinks, the likelihood of oral cancer is far greater. There is no safe level of consumption: the more a person drinks and smokes, the greater their risk.
“Every week in Victoria, on average more than 14 people are diagnosed with oral cancer and five people die from it,” Dental Health Services Victoria chief executive officer Susan McKee said.
“While some types of oral cancer are decreasing now that people are smoking less, tongue and oropharyngeal cancers are on the rise. 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.”
Oral health professionals play an important role in the prevention and detection of oral cancer. DHSV is leading a state-wide program supporting oral health professionals to recognise risk factors and detect oral cancer early.
A pilot in community dental agencies and private dental practices across Victoria showed oral health professionals were having more conversations with clients about smoking cessation, along with an increased focus on oral mucosal examinations, improved referral practices and sharing learning with peers.
Following the pilot’s success, training and information is being developed this year which will be offered to all Victorian oral health professionals.
“Early detection of oral cancer can save a person’s life,” said Professor Michael McCullough from The University of Melbourne Dental School, a key partner in the program.
“This program will equip oral health professionals with the skills to detect early signs of oral cancer. Oral cancer screening takes only a short time and is an integral element of routine care.”