• 3/2/2003
  • The Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial surgery

Jon D. Holmes, DMD, MD
Eric J. Dierks, DMD, MD
Louis D. Homer, MD, PhD
Bryce E. Potter, DMD, MD

Purpose: Stage at diagnosis is the most important prognostic indictor for oral and oropharyngeal squamous cell cancers (SCCs). Unfortunately, approximately 50% of these cancers are identified late (stage III or IV). We set out to examinationine the detection patterns of oral and oropharyngeal SCCs and to determine whether detection of these cancers by various health care providers was associated with a lower stage.

Patients and Methods: Data were gathered on 51 patients with newly diagnosed oral or oropharyngeal SCC through patient interview and chart audit. In addition to demographic data, specific inquiry was made regarding the circumstances surrounding the identification of the lesion. The main outcome measure was tumor stage grouping based on detection source.

Results: Health care providers detecting oral and oropharyngeal SCCs during non–symptom-driven (screening) examinations were dentists, hygienists, oral and maxillofacial surgeons, and, in 1 case, a denturist. All lesions detected by physicians occurred during a symptom-driven examination. Lesions detected during a non–symptom-driven examination were of a statistically significant lower average clinical and pathologic stage (1.7 and 1.6, respectively) than lesions detected during a symptom-directed examination (2.6 and 2.5, respectively). Additionally, a dental office is the most likely source of detection of a lesion during a screening examination (Fisher exact test, P = .0006). Overall, patients referred from a dental office were of significantly lower stage than those referred from a medical office. Finally, patients who initially saw a regional specialist (dentist, oral and maxillofacial surgeon, or otolaryngologist) with symptoms related to their lesion were more likely to have appropriate treatment initiated than those who initially sought care from their primary care provider.

Conclusion: Overall, detection of oral and oropharyngeal SCCs during a non–symptom-driven examination is associated with a lower stage at diagnosis, and this is most likely to occur in a dental office. A regional specialist was more likely than a primary care provider to detect an oral or oropharyngeal SCC and initiate the appropriate treatment during the first visit for symptoms related to the lesion.

J Oral Maxillofac Surg 61:285-291, 2003