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Mouth cancer patients ‘need to be seen quicker’

Posted by Joanne Mellor

Suspected head and neck cancer patients need to be seen within a two-week referral target, according to the British Dental Health Foundation (BDHF).

The organisation says costly delays can jeopardise patients’ lives.

According to NHS England figures produced in the Cancer Waiting Times annual report for 2012/13, over 1,200 head and neck cancer patients had to wait longer than three weeks to be seen by a specialist.

If the disease is caught early, survival rates over five years are seen among 90 per cent of patients. However without early detection that survival rate decreases to 50 per cent.

Chief executive of the BDHF, Dr Nigel Carter, said: “The challenge in relation to mouth cancer is to ensure that, due to the very nature of the disease, patients are seen quickly.”

He added that most people present with the disease at stage four – the most advanced stage – where “time is of the essence” in potentially saving lives.

Dental marketing can be used effectively to help raise awareness among patients. As well as being used to decorate treatment rooms and waiting areas, dental posters have the potential to alert visitors to possible symptoms of cancer and educate them on what to do if they are concerned.

Tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet and the human papillomavirus (HPV) are all known risk factors for the disease. Eating a healthy diet including five portions of fruit and vegetables a day can reduce the risk.

The number of patients with suspected head and neck cancer seen within 14 days has actually decreased from 96.3 per cent to 96.1 per cent since 2010/11.

Between April last year and March 2013, over one million patients were given urgent referrals to see cancer specialists.

Mouth cancer is forecast to affect 60,000 people in the UK over the next ten years.

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