An alarming lack of public awareness towards oral cancer

Br Dent J. 1999 Sep 25;187(6):319-22. doi: 10.1038/sj.bdj.4800269.


Objective: To determine public awareness and knowledge of oral cancer in Great Britain.

Design: The respondents were selected according to a systematic probability sample designed to be representative of all adults in Great Britain (GB). The overall design was similar to previous omnibus surveys carried out by National Opinion Poll (NOP). The survey was carried out in ten regions of GB in September 1995 and was commissioned by the Health Education Authority (HEA).

Subjects and methods: A random sample of 1,894 members of the public over the age of 16 years were asked in face-to-face interviews their knowledge relating to cancer, with particular reference to oral cancer, its causes and those at high risk and general attitudes to cancer.

Results: Oral cancer was one of the least heard of cancers by the public with only 56% of the participants being aware, whereas 96% had heard of skin cancer, 97% lung cancer and 86% cervical cancer. There was a 76% awareness of the link between smoking and oral cancer but only 19% were aware of its association with alcohol misuse. Whereas 94% agreed that early detection can improve the treatment outcome, a disheartening 43% believed that whether a person developed a cancer or not was a matter of chance and therefore was unavoidable.

Conclusions: This survey highlights a general lack of awareness among the public about mouth cancer and a lack of knowledge about its causation especially the excess risk associated with alcohol.

Recommendations: There is a clear need to inform and educate the public in matters relating to the known risk factors associated with oral cancer. A media campaign informing the public about oral cancer is clearly required. The need for the reduction in the incidence of oral cancer should be included in 'Our healthier nation' targets. An overall health promotion strategy to reduce cancers should include oral cancer as a priority. In addition the European Code against Cancer which aims to improve prevention, the early detection of oral cancer and the necessity for fast track referral should be made more widely known. Recognition of oral cancer in local strategies for oral health should be encouraged.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude to Health
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mouth Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Mouth Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Public Opinion
  • Random Allocation
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United Kingdom