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Evid Based Dent. 2010;11(4):101-2. doi: 10.1038/sj.ebd.6400750.

Clinical recommendations for oral cancer screening.

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  • 1Centre for Evidence-based Dentistry, Oxford, UK.



To address the benefits and limitations of oral cancer screening and the use of adjunctive screening aids to visualise and detect potentially malignant and malignant oral lesions. Squamous cell carcinomas of the lips and cancers of the oropharynx (including the posterior one-third of the base of the tongue and the tonsils were excluded.


A specially convened expert panel evaluated the available evidence which was derived from a systematic search of Medline and the Cochrane Library. Further details about the search are available in a supplement to the published article available on the Journal of the America Dental Association's website (http://jada.ada.org/cgi/content/full/141/5/509). Qualitative synthesis of the data was performed by the panel. Where consensus could not be reached majority voting was employed. Recommendations were reviewed by internal and external scientific experts and organisations. After review recommendations were revised where appropriate and the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs approved the final clinical recommendations.


No information provided in article.


The key recommendations were all classified as level D being based on grade IV evidence or extrapolated from grade I, II or III evidence using a system based on Shekelle et al.(1) The main recommendations can be summarised as:1) Clinicians should remain alert for signs of potentially malignant lesions or early-stage cancers in all patients while performing routine visual and tactile examinations, particularly for patients who use tobacco or who are heavy consumers of alcohol. 2) For seemingly innocuous lesions, clinicians should follow up in seven to 14 days to confirm persistence after removing any possible cause to reduce the potential for false-positive screening results. 3) For lesions that raise suspicion of cancer or for lesions that persist after removal of a possible cause, clinicians should communicate the potential benefits and risks of early diagnosis. Considerations include the following: a) that even suspicious lesions identified during the course of a routine visual and tactile examination may represent false positives; b) that clinical confirmation (a second opinion) can be sought from a dental or medical care provider with advanced training and experience in diagnosis of oral mucosal disease so as to reduce the potential for a false positive or false negative oral cancer screening result; c) that a malignancy or non-malignancy can be confirmed only via microscopic examination that requires a surgical biopsy; d) that a decision to pursue a biopsy to confirm the presence or absence of malignancy should be made in the context of informed consent. 4) Although transepithelial cytology has validity in identifying disaggregated dysplastic cells, the panel suggests surgical biopsy for definitive diagnosis.


In all, 15 separate research recommendations were made ranging from determining the prevalence of potentially malignant oral mucosal lesions in the United States to whether the use of adjunctive devices improves patient education and adherence to follow-up care.

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