Talking about cancer: Patient responses to raising awareness of oral cancer in primary dental care

Suzanne E. Scott*, Geanina Bruj, Shahryar Beheshti, Ruth Evans, Oluwatunmise Awojobi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Objectives: Dentists and other members of the dental team could raise awareness by talking about oral cancer during routine dental check-ups. A communication guide has been developed to facilitate this. However, it has been suggested that discussions about oral cancer may raise patients' anxiety and this has been documented by dentists as a barrier to having these conversations. The current research aimed to investigate implementation of the communication guide and its impact on the dental patient. Methods: A consecutive-case sample of adult dental patients attending primary dental care for a routine NHS check-up at one dental practice were invited to take part in the study via letter prior to their appointment. Consultations of participating patients (n = 77) were audio-recorded. Before and after their appointment, patients were asked to rate their current anxiety via the six-item version of Spielberger's State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. Audio recordings of each consultation were reviewed by two raters to determine the extent to which the dentist covered the topics recommended in the communication guide. Results: The dentist informed all patients that they were being checked for oral cancer, spoke about signs and symptoms, and discussed risk factors. However, they rarely recommended where help should be sought or addressed barriers to seeking help. Discussions took an average of 95 s. The extent to which oral cancer was discussed did not correlate with patients' post-appointment anxiety. Patients made positive or neutral responses to the discussions. The few questions that were asked were easily addressed. Conclusions: As findings are based on one dentist working at one practice, generalization of these results should be cautious. The study indicated that using an evidence-based guide to talk about oral cancer did not appear to raise patients' anxiety in this practice population. This could help to increase awareness of oral cancer in the endeavour to facilitate early cancer diagnosis.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCommunity Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022


  • communication
  • early diagnosis
  • fidelity
  • observation
  • oral cancer


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