If the NHS really wants to tackle oral cancer, it needs to decisive action, Michael Watson says.
November is the Oral Health Foundation’s Mouth Cancer Action Month, and it was officially launched last week at the House of Commons.
More than 75 people from across 40 organisations attended the event sponsored in Parliament by Sir Paul Beresford MP.
Sir Paul spoke about the importance of campaigns such as Mouth Cancer Action Month, before highlighting the landmark decision made by English, Welsh and Scottish governments to introduce gender-neutral HPV vaccinations.
The Oral Health Foundation’s chief executive, Nigel Carter, spoke about the continued importance of mouth cancer awareness.
He said: ‘Since we started Mouth Cancer Action Month, awareness of this deadly disease has grown from a very low level to a point where most people have at least heard about the disease, but it is not enough yet.’
But Henry Clover, chief dental officer at Simplyhealth Professionals, warned: ‘Mouth cancer cases continue to increase in the UK.
‘Even after the many years of successful campaigning, research still shows that 73% of UK adults are not fully aware of the main symptoms of mouth cancer.’
In the UK, more than 7,800 people were diagnosed with mouth cancer last year and the number of people being diagnosed with mouth cancer has grown by around a third in the last decade and remains one of very few cancers that are predicted to increase further in the coming years.
Dentists, hygienists and therapists all have a unique opportunity to carry out a mouth cancer check when patients attend for routine examinations.
As Dr Clover said at the House of Commons, research from Simplyhealth Professionals found that 83% of people in the UK do not check for signs of mouth cancer regularly.
He added: ‘When put together with the number of people still failing to visit the dentist regularly, shows why many cases of mouth cancer are found late.’
Free at the point of use
Dr Clover put his finger on the nub of the problem, namely that only around half the adult population visit an NHS dentist regularly, although a significant percentage see their dentist privately.
Added to this is the disincentive of having to pay an NHS patients’ charge for this examination.
For women the NHS arranges routine mammograms and cervical screening, for men prostate testing.
All adults of a certain age are sent testing kits for bowel cancer, all of these are free.
Yet for oral cancer, first you have to take the trouble to attend a dentist, then you have to pay a patient’s charge.
It seems as if it is only the profession that takes awareness of mouth cancer seriously.
If the NHS believes that the rising incidence or oral cancer is a within its remit, as other cancers are, then let it start a proper system of screening and make it ‘free at the point of use’.
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