Dedicated to the specialist

Early detection saves lives

11 December 2023

In the UK, an estimated 8,300 cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each year.[i] But, the nature of the condition means that it’s more likely than other types of cancer to progress into later stages unnoticed.

Symptoms may include:

  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Ear pain
  • Changes in voice or speech
  • Sore in mouth greater than 3 weeks
  • Halitosis
  • Lump in the neck, mouth, or throat

Early symptoms are prone to misdiagnosis. They are often mistaken for other conditions such as oral abscesses, paraesthesia, and trauma.[ii] Currently, over 70% of cases are diagnosed at stage III or stage IV, with 5-year survival rates at approximately 50%. When detected in stages I and II, the chances of survival are doubled. This makes early detection crucial in facilitating a prompt diagnosis and treatment.

Benefits of early diagnosis

As mentioned, early detection usually leads to higher survival rates, but it can improve patients’ quality of life too.

When in its early stages, oral cancer may be treated through a simple operation. However, more intensive treatment (including radiotherapy) will be required to treat cancer in its later stages. This can impact a patient’s ability to speak and swallow. Patients who survive advanced oral cancer often undergo many years of physical and speech therapy to improve function. They also experience the lasting effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

When clinicians look for indicators of oral cancer as part of routine exams, the likelihood of a missed or delayed diagnosis is reduced. Therefore, the patient’s chances of survival improve and the impact on their quality of life is limited. This not only helps to protect the health of the patient, but also minimises the risk of litigation that might occur if signs are missed.[iii]

Accelerate oral cancer detection

As such, assessing for oral cancer during routine exams is essential and the BeVigilant™ OraFusion™ System from Vigilant Biosciences® produces a simple and accurate risk assessment to aid in early detection. The non-invasive tool analyses saliva in 15 minutes or less. It then produces a report of either low, moderate, or elevated risk levels associated with oral cancer, to assist dentists in their decision making.

In order to improve survival rates for your patients, it’s important to carry out thorough exams to detect the early signs of oral cancer. Look out for symptoms and discuss lifestyle habits with your patients to get a good understanding of their risk level, and offer tailored advice.iii To assist in this process, and when deciding whether to refer, consider using a pre-diagnosis test to support and strengthen your risk assessment.


[i] Care Quality Commission. Dental mythbuster 33: Detecting oral cancer and improving outcomes in primary care. https://www.cqc.org.uk/guidance-providers/dentists/dental-mythbuster-33-detecting-oral-cancer-improving-outcomes-primary

[ii] Daniel, M. & Rogers, S.N. (2022). Professional delays in referral of patients with mouth cancer: six case histories. British Dental Journal 233(12), 1003-1008.

[iii] British Dental Association. Early detection and prevention of oral cancer: a management strategy for dental practice. Accessed online Sept 23: https://bda.org/about-the-bda/campaigns/Documents/early_detection_of_oral_cancer.pdf

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