Objectives: As part of a Maryland statewide oral cancer needs assessment, a census of adult and family practice nurse practitioners was conducted to determine their knowledge of oral cancer risk factors, diagnostic procedures and related opinions.
Methods: Information was obtained through a pretested, 40-item, self-administered mail questionnaire of 389 nurse practitioners. A second complete mailing was sent three weeks after the initial mailing; two postal card reminders were mailed at 10 and 17 days after the second mailing, which yielded a response rate of 56 percent.
Results: Most nurse practitioners identified the use of tobacco, alcohol, and prior oral cancer lesions as real risk factors. But only 35 percent identified exposure to the sun as a risk for lip cancer. Respondents were not overly knowledgeable about the early signs of oral cancer, most common forms, or sites for oral cancer. Only 19 percent believed their knowledge of oral cancer was current. Nurse practitioners who reported having a continuing education course on oral cancer within the past two to five years were 3.1 times more likely to have a high score on knowledge of risk factors and 2.9 times more likely to have a high score on knowledge of both risk factors and of diagnostic procedures than were those who had never had a continuing education course.
Conclusions: The reported knowledge of oral cancer, in conjunction with opinions about level of knowledge and training, point to a need for systematic educational updates in oral cancer prevention and early detection.