More than 16 people are diagnosed with oral cancer in each average week in Victoria, DHSV said, and it is now the eighth most common cancer in men and the 14th most common cancer in women.
Approximately three in each four cases of oral cancer are linked to modifiable risk factors, DHSV continued, notably tobacco use and alcohol consumption. DHSV is particularly concerned as the COVID-19 pandemic drove alcohol retail sales.
The pandemic also is impacting oral cancer screenings and detection, DHSV said. Reduced access to dental and other healthcare services, as well as patients deferring appointments, saw head and neck cancer diagnoses including oral cancers drop 41% last year in Victoria.
DHSV further notes that the human papillomavirus (HPV) is another risk factor for cancer of the oropharynx. Routine oral examinations are an opportunity to identify early external signs, including neck lumps, DHSV said.
Late diagnosis of oral cancer can lead to ineffective treatment and significantly worse prognosis, DHSV said. A strong socioeconomic gradient exists, DHSV continued, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and low-income earners at higher risk of these cancers.
In response, DHSV said it has launched an online training resource to help Victorian oral health professionals across public and private practice to identify people most at risk and detect oral cancer earlier.
The Oral Cancer Learning Hub aims to enhance oral health professionals’ knowledge, confidence, and skills in oral cancer prevention and detection.
The practice, evidence-based resource supports practitioners to recognize potentially malignant lesions and refer for specialist opinion and diagnosis, DHSV said. The hub also arms professionals with the information they need to have potentially life-changing conversations with patients about their individual risks.
“Oral health professionals are integral to the prevention and early detection of oral cancer,” said DHSV CEO Susan McKee.