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News / October 1, 2010

Thousands queue for free mouth cancer screening

by Guy Hiscott

Thousands of people queued at both Cork and Dublin Dental School and Hospital on 29 September to avail of a free mouth cancer check.

In Cork, the queue began to form at 8.15am, even though the day had been advertised to start at 9.30am, prompting staff to open the doors before 9am because well over 100 people were waiting at that stage.

Speaking after the event, organiser Dr Eleanor O’Sullivan, a clinical lecturer in oral surgery at Cork University Dental School and Hospital, said: ‘We were overwhelmed by the interest. Because this had never been done before in Ireland, there was no way to anticipate what the level of public interest would be. We didn’t know whether to expect 20 people or 200, but we calculated we could see 750. In the end, we estimate that we screened approximately 800 people.

‘Our main aim was to raise awareness of mouth cancer and we have certainly done that!’

Cork screening and Munster players

Munster stars Tom Gleeson, Billy Holland and Donnacha Ryan dropped by the Cork Dental School and Hospital to lend their support. Pictured are: Dr Christine Mc Creery, Nuala Dee, Dr Eleanor O’Sullivan, Tom Gleeson, Billy Holland and Donnacha Ryan in the chair. © University College Cork. Photograph by: Tomas Tyner, UCC

In total, about 1,800 people turned up on the day, and to meet demand staff took down the contact details of each person they were unable to screen on the Wednesday with a view to following up with each of them over the next few weeks.

People were also advised that this examination can be obtained from their own dentist, for a small fee.

At the Cork screenings, a secondary aim was to provide final-year dental students with hands-on experience of head and neck cancer screening, and to firmly instil in them the importance of always carrying out a thorough examination of the head and neck for each patient in their normal daily practice. To that end, each patient was initially examined by one of the 40 students on hand, after which they saw a staff member. This meant that every person was screened at least twice.

If anything of note was found at this point, the patient then saw a staff member experienced in the field of oral cancer. On the day, the ENT department of the South Infirmary/Victoria Hospital attended and carried out endoscopic examinations for those (approximately 40) presenting with symptoms of persistent hoarseness or dysphagia.

Eleanor commented: ‘The interest was fantastic. Facilities were also available for on-the-spot biopsies, but in the end only one individual underwent this procedure on the day. This was as expected as we find that people like to have a friend or relative with them for that kind of procedure. However, quite a number of participants are being called back for follow-up treatment including biopsies.’

Looking to the future, Eleanor said: ‘Because it was an overwhelming success, we are looking at the possibility of holding a Mouth Head & Neck Cancer Awareness & Screening Day on an annual basis and perhaps expanding it to involve local dentists, if we can get the required funding.

‘I would like to say a big thank you to the companies that supplied educational grants for the Cork screening day – Pfizer, GSK and Pamex.’

Dublin Dental School and Hospital, meanwhile, experienced a similarly overwhelming response from the public. Patients started to queue from 6:45am and the clinic opened an hour earlier than planned to cope with the huge demand.

To mark the occasion the Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney, together with opposition health spokespeople James Reilly of Fine Gael and Labour’s Jan O’Sullivan, visited the Dublin Dental University Hospital to meet with staff, healthcare professionals, visitors and mouth, head and neck cancer survivors who were present throughout the day to talk and offer advice.

People who attended were registered and were then directed to a clinical area for a check-up – the clinics were run by staff nurses and dentists. Following this clinical check-up, smoking cessation advice was provided by the dental hygiene students.  People were then shown how to examine their own mouths by the fourth-year dental students.

MHNC dublin

Dr Claire Healy, senior lecturer consultant, oral medicine; Dr Denise MacCarthy, senior lecturer consultant, restorative dentistry; Jan O’Sullivan, TD; Dr James Reilly, TD; Dr Michael O’Sullivan, clinical director, senior lecturer consultant, special dental needs; Mary Harney, TD, Minister for Health and Children; Professor June Nunn, dean of dental science, senior lecturer consultant, special care dentistry; Professor Stephen Flint, pro dean, senior lecturer consultant, oral medicine; Ms Emer Daly, chairperson, Dublin Dental Hospital Board

Throughout the day, staff screened over 1,350 patients, with another 700 still waiting at the end of the day who were subsequently invited to return for a check-up.

The awareness days were organised by new support group, MHNC (Mouth, Head and Neck Cancer).