Objective: This study assesses knowledge of oral cancer risk factors, clinical signs, and oral cancer examination experience among North Carolina adults.
Methods: A statewide random digit dial, computer-assisted telephone interview was conducted in 2002. Data from 1,096 respondents, with a response rate of 62 percent, were poststratified to 2000 census data by sex, race, and age group to produce population-based estimates. Knowledge of one sign of oral cancer, four or more risk factors for oral cancer, and having ever had an oral cancer examination were compared in logistic regression models using normalized weights.
Results: Fourteen (95% confidence interval [CI] +/-2) percent of adults had never heard of oral or mouth cancer. Risk factor knowledge was high for 56 percent (95% CI+/-3) and associated in a logistic regression model with younger age, feeling personal factors cause cancer, and nonuse of snuff. One sign of oral cancer (sore/lesion, red or white patch in mouth, and bleeding in the mouth) was correctly identified by 53 percent (95% CI+/-3) with significantly more correct responses from younger people, nonsmokers, and some college education. Only 29 percent (95% CI+/-3) reported ever having had an oral cancer examination when this procedure was described. Most respondents reported exams performed by dentists. In a weighted logistic regression model, older age, being dentate, nonsmokers, alcohol users, and those with some college education were significantly more likely to report having ever had an oral cancer examination.
Conclusions: Although there is moderate knowledge of signs and risk factors for oral cancer among North Carolina adults, knowledge deficits remain. Oral cancer examinations need to be increased, particularly among tobacco smokers.