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Br Dent J. 2000 Mar 11;188(5):262-5.

Delays in the referral and treatment of oral squamous cell carcinoma.

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Maxillofacial Unit, Rotherham District General Hospital, Oakwood, South Yorkshire.

Erratum in

  • Br Dent J 2000 Apr 8;188(7):380.



To investigate the delays in referral and treatment of patients with oral cancer.


A retrospective study.


District General Hospital Maxillofacial Unit (MFU).


100 consecutive patients with invasive squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity referred to Rotherham District General Hospital Maxillofacial Unit (RDGH MFU) between 15th March 1993 and 16th January 1998.


Information collected at the time of referral and treatment was examined retrospectively.


In the patients studied 72% were male, mean age 61.2 years (sd = 11.2, range 37 to 88) and 28% female, mean age 65.6 years (sd = 16.7, range 29 to 90). The majority of referrals were from medical practitioners (56%) and most of the remainder being referred by dental practitioners (36%). The patient delay was found to be the most significant with only 39% presenting within 4 weeks, 29% delayed more than 3 months. There was no statistical correlation between T-stage, alcohol or cigarette use and the patient delay in presentation. Having presented to a medical or dental practitioner 69% were referred within 1 week. There were no significant differences between the T-stages presenting to either medical or dental practitioners or in their delay in referral for each stage. There was no significant difference in age or sex distribution between the populations presenting to general medical or general dental practitioners. General medical practitioners were more likely to refer a patient urgently. Patients referred directly to the MFU were seen quickly but those referred via an indirect route were delayed. 95% of patients were treated within 6 weeks of first consultation.


The majority of practitioners refer patients with oral cancer within 1 week. The most significant delay is that caused by the patient. Some practitioners referred patients to inappropriate specialties, leading to indirect referrals. This results in additional delay in the referral and treatment pathway. Education of the public and primary health care workers should continue. Opportunistic screening of the oral mucosa should be part of the dental check up, with possible targeting of patients at greatest risk, particularly heavy drinkers and smokers.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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