Conducting oral examinations for cancer in general practice: what are the barriers?

Fam Pract. 2010 Feb;27(1):77-84. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmp064. Epub 2009 Oct 15.


Background: The incidence of oral (mouth) cancer in the UK is continuing to rise. Individuals who are at greatest risk rarely visit a dentist but do consult general medical practitioners (GMPs). Therefore, GMPs could have an important role in the early detection of oral cancer. Research has shown that GMPs do not opportunistically screen high-risk individuals; however, the barriers to screening are poorly understood.

Objectives: To understand the reasons why GMPs may not screen for oral cancer.

Methods: A questionnaire was developed, using the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB), to measure GMPs attitudes to and screening for oral cancer. The questionnaire was designed using all the key theoretical constructs of the TPB and incorporating the themes identified in a qualitative elicitation study. The questionnaire was posted to 499 GPs in Surrey Primary Care trust.

Results: Two hundred and twenty-eight completed questionnaires were returned (46%). Two TPB constructs [subjective norm (e.g. peer pressure) and perceived external control factors (e.g. adequate equipment, time constraints)] were identified as significant predictors of 'intention' to perform oral screening. Intention and perceived internal control factors (e.g. self-efficacy) were predictive of actually performing oral screening with patients.

Conclusions: The results of the study suggest that there is considerable potential for improving intention to perform oral cancer screening in general practice. Theory-based interventions could include further training to enhance confidence, expertise, knowledge and ease of examination, the provision of adequate equipment in the surgery and increasing the motivation to comply with significant others by introducing guidelines on opportunistic screening.

MeSH terms

  • Family Practice*
  • Female
  • Guideline Adherence*
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / statistics & numerical data*
  • Mouth Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • United Kingdom