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Oral health advice can improve survival in head and neck cancers

More and more dentists are looking out for signs of a number of health problems during oral exams. One of these is skin and head cancer, which can first present themselves in the mouth.

A new study has found that very small changes, some of which would already be encouraged by dentists, could help reduce a patient’s risk of head and neck cancers.

Researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Centre (KUMC) linked simple measures such as complying with post-treatment follow-up, quitting smoking and living within a reasonable distance of a healthcare centre, to improved survival rates in head and neck cancer patients. 

The survey wanted to determine whether the high mortality rates of head and neck cancers could be changed, especially the five-year survival rate, which is just over 50 per cent.

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Otolaryngology, their study analysed post-treatment follow ups, and their effectiveness. The team found that even the smallest changes could boost the chance of survival.

Nearly 400 patients were involved in the research and had all been diagnosed with head and neck cancers between 2003 and 2008. The researchers then gathered data on each participant including patient characteristics, tumour characteristics, tobacco use and cessation, compliance with post-treatment surveillance (PTS), socioeconomic factors and clinical outcomes. 

They found that increased compliance increased levels of smoking cessation, which then increased survival rates.

Overall, the increased survival rates of five years were substantial enough that they could not be ignored by the researchers, with compliance post-treatment being the most important factor.

For dentists, helping patients to spot the early signs of head or neck cancers could improve their survival rates, as well as offering literature on the topic. Helping people to see the real life benefits of stopping smoking or brushing their teeth regularly can engage patients with the practice.

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