Oral cancer (including oropharyngeal cancer) continues to rise in Victoria, with more than 16 people diagnosed in an average week. The Victorian cancer plan 2020–2024 reiterated the importance of early diagnosis and recognised the role that oral health professionals play in prevention, detection and referral.
In response, Dental Health Services Victoria (DHSV) recently launched the Oral Cancer Learning Hub oralcancerhub.org.au, an online training resource to help Victorian dental teams identify and support people most at risk – with the wider aim to decrease late stage presentation, and ultimately reduce the impact of the disease on Victorians.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted oral cancer prevention, screening and detection. The Victorian Cancer Registry reported a 41% drop in head and neck cancer pathology notifications last year. There was also rise in alcohol retail sales. As patients return to routine appointments this year, dental professionals are well placed to discuss risk factors (including alcohol consumption and tobacco use) and detect early signs and symptoms.
The Oral Cancer Learning Hub includes evidence-based information about risk factors and prevention, a visual ‘atlas’ of suspicious lesions, examination resources, clinical case studies and Victorian referral guidelines. The accompanying CPD quiz includes a personalised learning plan, and clinicians can see how their peers collectively scored on each question.
The Oral Cancer Learning Hub also encourages oral health professionals to use routine oral examinations as an opportunity to identify early external signs of oropharyngeal cancer, raise awareness of the link with human papillomavirus (HPV) and refer to the patient’s GP if further examination is needed by an ear, nose and throat or head and neck surgeon. Professor Michael McCullough from the University of Melbourne Dental School, which is a partner in the program, points out to oral health professionals how easily oral cancer screening can be incorporated into treatment.
"Oral cancer examination and risk assessment takes only a short time and is an integral part of routine care. Early detection can save a person’s life."
‘There’s been a steady increase in cases of oral cancer over the last 15 years. The Oral Cancer Learning Hub will enhance the skills of Victorian oral health professionals to identify people most at risk and have essential conversations that could be life-saving,’ says DHSV CEO Susan McKee.
Dental practitioners can record three scientific CPD points for visiting the Oral Cancer Learning Hub and completing the quiz. Clinicians are encouraged to share with your referral contacts this online resource and champion oral cancer risk assessment and screening as part of routine dental care. Clinicians can also share information with patients about oral cancer risk and prevention. Dental Health Services Victoria has online information for consumers about oral cancer, and worked with the Better Health Channel to update its consumer information on mouth cancer and throat cancer.
The Oral Cancer Learning Hub and quiz was produced with funding from the Department of Health as an initiative under the Victorian Cancer Plan. Content was developed in partnership with experts at Dental Health Services Victoria, the University of Melbourne Dental School, the Australian Dental Association (Victorian Branch), La Trobe University Department of Dentistry and Oral Health and the Department of Health. Find out more about the Victorian Oral Cancer Screening & Prevention Program or contact Program Lead Kym Lang at DHSV for more information about clinician support and training. She can be contacted at Kym.Lang@dhsv.org.au.