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News / June 11, 2009

Early detection of oral cancer is key to survival

by Guy Hiscott

Early detection and changes in lifestyle are the best ways to beat oral cancer, delegates were told at the BDA event Biting back: early detection of oral cancer held at Stormont.

The event was addressed by the acting Chief Dental Officer, Donncha O’Carolan, who said: ‘We know that tobacco and alcohol are the two major risk factors for oral cancer and that they are also major risk factors for a range of other cancers and other systemic diseases. That means that it is important that we adopt the common risk factor approach and work in partnership with other health professionals and across other sectors to ensure better health for all our population.’

Seamus Killough, Chair of the British Dental Association in Northern Ireland, also speaking at the conference, commented: ‘Dentists can play a valuable role in identifying the disease. I had personal experience of this when I found oral cancer affecting a very fit, non-smoking, non-drinking, ex-county and provincial hurler, single-figure handicap golfer and great friend.

‘Thankfully, he survived because of early detection and intervention. It is not incurable, but people need to be aware that early detection is a key to survival. I would encourage everyone to get regular dental check-ups, as dentists are well placed to help in the early detection of oral cancer.’ 

Professor Philip Lamey, consultant in oral medicine at Queens University, Belfast stated: ‘Smokers and drinkers are most at risk of developing oral cancer. Oral cancers are twice as common in men as they are in women. Two-thirds of the oral cancers registered per year are in men. It is among the 20 most commonly diagnosed cancers, with greater numbers of patients diagnosed than in some malignancies that are more highly publicised, such as cervical cancer.’

Figures from the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry show that in 2006 there were a total of 183 cases of oral cancer diagnosed, of which 123 were men and 60 were women. The Registry also showed that the five-year survival rate for oral cancer is, on average, less than 50%.