Oral health programs

Oral cancer screening and prevention


Oral cancer is on the rise in Victoria. Dental Health Services Victoria is leading a new program which supports health professionals to promote prevention and enable earlier detection.

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Oral cancer (including oropharyngeal cancer) is a significant cause of disease burden in Victoria, with an average of 14 new diagnoses and five deaths a week. Oral cancer is often diagnosed late, resulting in a relative five-year survival rate of just 66%. This innovative state-wide program, the first in Australia, supports oral and other health professionals to identify people at risk and detect the disease earlier.

Who is most at risk?

Oral cancer is the 9th most common cancer in Victorian men and the 16th in Victorian women. Tobacco and alcohol consumption cause three in four cases of oral cancer; and over 70% of oropharyngeal cancers are linked to human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Incidence is higher in people over 45, especially men, and disadvantaged groups, who are more likely to smoke or drink and have poorer access to dental care. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have higher rates of oral cancer. More on oral cancer risk and prevention here.

Early detection saves lives

Opportunistic screening is the best way to detect oral cancer early. Oral cancer screening by an oral health professional takes only a short time and is an integral element of routine care. Every patient should be screened regularly, not just those at higher risk. “With earlier diagnosis, a person’s treatment and prognosis can be enormously improved,” says Michael McCullough, Professor of Oral Medicine at the University of Melbourne.

In this short video, Professor McCullough demonstrates oral cancer screening.

Setting up and using a DSLR camera for oral cancer screening

How to set up a DSLR camera (PDF)

Oral cancer screening and prevention program

In its first stage, the program aims to empower oral health professionals to identify and support people at risk, recognise early signs of cancerous lesions and refer appropriately – ultimately reducing the impact of oral cancer on Victorians. Following a successful training pilot in 2019, DHSV is now leading an ongoing program of evidence-based training, information and tools that will be offered to all Victorian oral health professionals in community and private practice. Each member of the dental team has a vital part to play.

Visit this page regularly for updates. For more information, contact program lead Kym Lang: kym.lang@dhsv.org.au

The oral cancer screening and prevention program is funded by the Department of Health and Human Services as an initiative under the current Victorian Cancer Plan. The program is led by Dental Health Services Victoria, in partnership with the University of Melbourne Dental School, the Australian Dental Association (Victorian Branch), La Trobe University Department of Dentistry and the Department of Health and Human Services.