ADA Expanding Policy on Oral Cancer Definition

Includes new conditions and considerations

The American Dental Association recommends dentists conduct routine visual and tactile examinations for oral and oropharyngeal cancer for all patients, according to a resolution passed by the ADA House of Delegates on Sept. 9.

Resolution 65H-2019 amended the ADA policy on early detection and prevention of oral cancer to include oropharyngeal cancer and cover all patients, not just those previously thought to be at an increased risk because of tobacco and alcohol use.

“The revised policy aligns our statement with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on visual and tactile examination and screening for oral and oropharyngeal cancers and highlights dentists’ critical role in cancer screening and prevention,” said Dr. Maria Geisinger, chair of the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs, which was charged with reviewing the policy and recommending changes.

The amendments also align with the ADA policy approved by the House of Delegates in October 2018 that supports the use and administration of the human papillomavirus vaccine. The CDC estimates 70% of oropharyngeal cancers in the United States are associated with HPV.

A research article published in August by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that in the 2011-16 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, only about one-third of U.S. adults 30 and older who had visited a dental practice within the last two years reported receiving an oral cancer screening exam.

In addition, survey data showed disparities based on demographics, with individuals who were a racial/ethnic minority, low income, less educated and uninsured or publicly insured less likely to be screened for oral cancer than those who were white and non-Hispanic, high income, more educated and privately insured.

“These patients are at a higher risk of developing oral cancer. The lower probability of dental professionals to screen these individuals represents a missed opportunity for early detection and improved outcomes of oral cancer,” said Dr. Alessandro Villa, an assistant professor at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine and associate surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who co-authored the article and has worked with the ADA on HPV and oral cancer initiatives. 


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