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Oral Cancers and Potentially Malignant Disorders: Population-Based Interventions for Early Detection


What the CPSTF Found

About The Systematic Review

The CPSTF uses recently published systematic reviews to conduct accelerated assessments of interventions that could provide program planners and decision-makers with additional, effective options. The following published review was selected and evaluated by a team of specialists in systematic review methods, and in research, practice, and policy related to oral health.

Brocklehurst P, Kujan O, O'Malley LA, Ogden G, Shepherd S, Glenny A-M. Screening programmes for the early detection and prevention of oral cancer. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013;11.

The published review included 1 study (search period 1950-2013). The CPSTF finding is based on results from the published review, additional analyses of data from included studies, and expert input from team members and the CPSTF. This finding updates and replaces the 2000 Task Force finding on Population-Based Interventions for Early Detection for Oral and Pharyngeal Cancers pdf icon [PDF - 224 KB].


The updated search for evidence identified a systematic review that evaluated the accuracy of screening tests for the early detection of oral cancers and potentially malignant disorders. Findings from this review are covered comprehensively External Web Site Icon by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

Summary of Results

Detailed results from the systematic review are available in the CPSTF Finding and Rationale Statement pdf icon [PDF - 175 KB]

One study qualified for the review.

  • A single study looking at the effectiveness of screening programs for improving oral cancer outcomes showed a 24% reduction in oral cancer mortality in high-risk individuals (those who used tobacco or alcohol or both).
  • The study also showed that the proportion of cancers diagnosed as stage III or worse were significantly lower among those participants undergoing screening (53%) compared to those who did not receive screening (65%).

Summary of Economic Evidence

An economic review of this intervention was not conducted because the CPSTF did not have enough information to determine if the intervention works.


Applicability of this intervention across different settings and populations was not assessed because the CPSTF did not have enough information to determine if the intervention works.

Evidence Gaps

The CPSTF identified several areas that have limited information. Additional research and evaluation could help fill remaining gaps in the evidence base. (What are evidence gaps?)

  • High quality research in needed in different settings with populations that have varying cancer rates.
  • Studies are needed to evaluate the effectiveness of other forms of population-based initiatives, such as public awareness campaigns and educational interventions, with relevant health-related outcomes.
  • More research is needed on the steps that follow initial detection and diagnosis, including management of potentially malignant disorders, effective treatment strategies, potential markers that can predict the likelihood for developing into a malignancy, time frame for progression, and patients' knowledge and compliance with referrals and follow-up.
  • Continuing research should be done to help identify those at higher risk for oral cancer, particularly as causes emerge or become more common (e.g., infection with human papillomavirus [HPV])

Study Characteristics

  • The one included study was conducted in India, where the incidence of oral cancer is greater than in the U.S.
  • The randomized controlled trial had a large sample size (n=191,873) and 15 years of follow-up data.