Oral cancer knowledge, attitudes and practices: a survey of dentists and primary care physicians in Massachusetts

Elizabeth Applebaum, Tara N Ruhlen, Frannie R Kronenberg, Catherine Hayes, Edward S Peters
Journal of the American Dental Association 2009, 140 (4): 461-7

BACKGROUND: The authors conducted a study to assess dentists' and primary care physicians' oral cancer knowledge, attitudes and practices in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

METHODS: The authors mailed a 38-item, pretested questionnaire to a stratified sample of dentists and primary care physicians in Massachusetts. The sample population included all general medicine, internal medicine and family practice physicians listed with the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine and all Massachusetts Dental Society members. The authors invited a random sample of more than 1,000 clinicians to participate in the survey. They assessed knowledge, attitudes and practices of respondents and performed a bivariate analysis of responses to questions by using statistical software.

RESULTS: Forty-nine percent of physicians reported performing an oral cancer examination in patients aged 40 to 55 years, compared with 92 percent of dentists (P < .001). For patients 56 years or older, 54 percent of physicians reported performing oral cancer examinations, compared with 93 percent of dentists (P < .001). More than 96 percent of physicians reported that they asked patients about smoking and alcohol use. However, only 9 percent of physicians and 39 percent of dentists were able to identify the two most common sites on which oral cancer develops (P < .001). Fifty-seven percent of dentists and 24 percent of physicians correctly identified the most common symptom of early oral cancer.

CONCLUSION: This survey identified an existing gap in knowledge and practices among physicians and dentists and underscores the need to enhance oral cancer education among both professional groups.


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