Oral cancer screening for Victorians

Oral cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers affecting Australians. In 2019, an individual's risk of cancer in the head and neck region will be 1 in 48 by their 85th birthday.

Dental Health Services Victoria (DHSV) is rolling out a new program aimed at preventing and detecting the disease as early as possible.

The Oral Cancer Screening and Prevention Program

The program is an innovative oral cancer screening and prevention program will see Victoria's oral health professionals screen high-risk people in the community where treatment can be most effective.

Professor Michael McCullough from the Melbourne Dental School said that increasing oral cancer prevention, screening and and early detection would be an effective approach to reduce the impact of the disease.

"Oral cancer is one of the leading causes of disease burden in Victoria with an average of over 14 new diagnoses and three deaths a week," Professor McCullough said.

"In it's early stages, the disease can be difficult to detect by patients and clinicians and may remain undiagnosed until well advanced. The prognosis may be poor, therefore, with low survival rates and severe health and economic impact for patients and their families.

"With earlier diagnosis, a patient's treatment and prognosis can be enormously improved."

DHSV CEO Dr Deborah Cole said there has been an increase in the number of oral cancer cases in Victoria.

"From 2005 to 2017, the number of cases in Victoria has steadily increased by 42 per cent and that's why we need to tackle signs of oral cancer as early as we can," Dr Cole said.

"The incidence of throat cancer has more than doubled during this time and more recently, human papillomavirus infection has been found to be linked with increasing incidence of throat cancer."

Screening of patients by clinicians as part of a comprehensive examination is an important aspect of oral cancer.

Currently, a comprehensive prevention and screening program, with clear referral pathways is lacking in Australia.

To help reduce the impact of oral cancer on Victorians, a training program providing oral health professionals with the skills to detect early signs of oral cancer in their patients is in development and will be piloted this year.

The training program will include oral screening guidance, patient risk behaviour assessment information and pathways for referral.

"Following completion of the pilot, the program will be offered to all Victorian oral health professionals and it is anticipated this will significantly decrease the number of late stage oral cancer diagnoses," said Professor McCullough.

"The program will empower clinicians and their patients to discuss and reduce high cancer risk behaviours."


The Oral Cancer Screening and Prevention Program is funded by the Department of Health and Human Services under the Victorian Cancer Plan 2016-20.

The program is being led by DHSV in partnership with the University of Melbourne Dental School, the Australian Dental Association (Victorian branch), La Trobe University's Department of Dentistry and the Department of Health and Human Services.

This article was originally published on DHSV News on 22 May 2019.