Clinical tip: how to implement oral cancer screening in your dental practice

April 5, 2011
April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Do your patients know that you care? Kevin D. Huff, DDS, MAGD, offers a straightforward protocol you can use to incorporate oral cancer screening into your practice right now.

By Kevin D. Huff, DDS, MAGD

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Do your patients know that you care? Do they know that you save lives as well as teeth? Do they know that you use the latest technologies available for them?

According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, oral cancers in the mouth and oropharynx "... cause over 8,000 deaths, killing roughly 1 person per hour ...."

Along with a conventional oral cancer examination performed at least yearly on all adults and adolescents, there are many adjunctive screening tools that are available to help dentists and hygienists discover very early preneoplastic lesions that have the potential to develop into cancer, when the diagnostic step of a biopsy is often sufficient treatment.

Your staff and hygienist are the key to implementing routine oral cancer screening into your practice. They can express your enthusiasm and empathy better than you, the dentist, in most cases. Some form of adjunctive visual screening should be incorporated routinely into every hygiene visit.

The following are currently available visual screening aids:

  • VELscope Vx
  • Identafi Ultra 3000
  • Dental Oral Examination (DOE)
  • ViziLite
  • Loupes and headlights

If a lesion is discovered during the screening process, the following is a reasonable and acceptable protocol:

  1. Photograph the lesion clinically and as it is seen with the adjunctive technology.
  2. Inform the patient of your findings.
  3. Remove any obvious cause of trauma.
  4. Reevaluate the lesion in two weeks, unless it is an obviously cancerous lesion.
  5. If the lesion is still present in two weeks, refer for or perform a surgical biopsy.

Author bio
Dr. Kevin Huff is a practicing general dentist in Dover, Ohio. He is a sought-after lecturer and author on the topic of oral cancer screening by general dentists and serves as the coordinator of oral mucosal screening for the Mercy Medical Center Dental GPR program in Canton, Ohio. Dr. Huff is also visiting faculty for Spear Education in Scottsdale, Ariz., and is a clinical instructor at the Case School of Dental Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio. You may reach Dr. Huff by email at [email protected].