Reasons for delayed presentation in oral and oropharyngeal cancer: the patients perspective

Br J Oral Maxillofac Surg. 2011 Jul;49(5):349-53. doi: 10.1016/j.bjoms.2010.06.018. Epub 2010 Jul 31.


Patients with oral and oropharyngeal cancer (OOC) often delay presenting to their doctor or dentist. The aims of this study were to ask a consecutive cohort following treatment for OOC about their initial symptoms and the time spent before presentation to the healthcare profession. Also to discover their views on how to reduce delays in presentation. From a 2-year cohort treated within 2 years, 71 completed a short survey and 44 were subsequently interviewed by telephone. A non-healing ulcer or sore was the commonest symptom patients first related to having cancer. Around half interpreted their symptoms as something minor, staying much the same initially, and something that probably would get better by itself. Most would have sought advice earlier if they had been more aware of oral cancer. Although many patients talked about their symptoms to spouse, partner, family or friends, over one-third said they spoke to nobody about it. Our sample did not find that access to a doctor or a dentist was a barrier to seeking advice. This study highlights that from the patients perception they generally thought their symptoms were trivial, would get better by themselves and gave little thought as to whether it might be cancer. Patients commented they knew nothing more about the disease. In their views the best way to get patients to self refer earlier was through improved awareness of the disease, as many felt there was a gross lack of knowledge in this field of cancers compared to other cancers.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Attitude to Health
  • Cohort Studies
  • Communication
  • Delayed Diagnosis*
  • Dentists
  • Female
  • Glossitis / diagnosis
  • Glossitis / psychology
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Education, Dental
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mouth Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Mouth Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Oral Ulcer / diagnosis
  • Oral Ulcer / psychology
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Patients / psychology*
  • Pharyngitis / diagnosis
  • Pharyngitis / psychology
  • Physicians
  • Self Medication
  • Surveys and Questionnaires