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Routine Dental Check-Ups Should Include Oral Cancer Screening

Screening for oral cancer at a routine dental check-up may not only prevent the disease, but it is also cost-effective. //A new analysis says that such screenings could end up saving 2,000 British pounds to 12,000 British pounds in healthcare costs for the patients.

The review is published in the latest issue of Health Technology Assessment, the international journal series of the Health Technology Assessment program of the National Health Service for the United Kingdom.

Dr. Paul Speight of the University of Sheffield in England and colleagues collected data on resources and costs in oral cancer treatment from two hospitals, as well as information from published studies and expert clinicians. They tested a variety of screening scenarios—from no screening at all to screening at all physician visits — on a hypothetical population of Britons age 40 and older.

Screening high-risk patients — those who smoke or who drink heavily — brought about the most significant results. However, Speight said the estimate assumes that treating precancerous lesions in the mouth lessen the chance that the lesions will become malignant. The review of the medical literature “revealed that there is little evidence that this is the case,” Speight said.

But Dr. Michael Kahn, an oral pathologist with Tufts University and member of the Massachusetts Dental Society, said that there is an “excellent prognosis” for people who catch oral cancer in its earliest stages.

He acknowledged that “once you’ve had a premalignant spot, you’ve already identified yourself as someone more prone to get another one.” Most dental associations recommend extra checkups and self-exams at home for these patients, he said. Speight and colleagues’ analysis also depends heavily on how much the government-run health service in the United Kingdom would be willing to pay for both screening and treatments for oral cancer, suggesting costs in the United States may no
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