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Federal task force questions benefits of oral cancer screening

Apr 15, 2013

This month marks the 14th annual Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Doctors and dentists nationwide are encouraging patients to get an oral cancer screen because the earlier oral cancer is detected, the greater the chances of survival and the less chance of treatment-related health issues.

Imagine the consternation of dentists and oral health specialists when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) announced last week there is insufficient evidence on whether screening can accurately detect oral cancer, and if early treatment improves long-term health.

The USPSTF task force is an independent volunteer panel of national experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine. In their statement they said their recommendations were meant for primary care professionals screening for oral cancer, not dentists and oral health professionals.

“It’s not that oral cancer screening has been shown to be ineffective or too risky,” said Dr. Maura Gillison of Ohio State University. “The huge problem is a lack of studies.”

The group’s findings are interesting considering that dentists and oral health specialists like periodontists are often on the front lines of detecting oral cancer early.  Symptoms are often found during a routine dental exam and may include bumps, rough spots or crusts on the lips, gums or other areas inside the mouth.

The USPSTF report found:

  • Inadequate evidence that the oral screening exam accurately detects oral cancer
  • Inadequate evidence that screening for oral cancer and treatment of screen-detected oral cancer improves sickness or life expectancy
  • Inadequate evidence on the harms of screening

Brian Hill, executive director of the Oral Cancer Foundation, disagreed with the group’s conclusions. “I put no weight on what the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has to say about this since their determination was based on the evidence that no peer-review studies have been done to show that oral cancer screening has any impact on long-term outcomes,” he said.

“Lack of published data showing benefit or harm is only evidence of a lack of published data, not evidence of a negative finding, he said.”

The USPSTF’s recommendations are available for public comment April 9 through May 6 by clicking here .

Sources: MedlinePlus, Dr. Biscupid, WebMd

Copyright 2013, Bloom Insurance Agency, LLC

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