The new analysis suggests that screening of high-risk patients by dentists could save anywhere from 2,000 British pounds to 12,000 British pounds in health-care costs for each additional healthy year of a patient’s life.

Dr. Paul Speight of the University of Sheffield in England and colleagues collected data on resources and costs in oral cancer treatment from two hospitals, as well as information from published studies and expert clinicians. They tested a variety of screening scenarios - from no screening at all to screening at all physician visits - on a hypothetical population of Britons age 40 and older. Screening high-risk patients - those who smoke or who drink heavily - brought about the most significant results.

However, Speight said the estimate assumes that treating precancerous lesions in the mouth lessen the chance that the lesions will become malignant. The review of the medical literature “revealed that there is little evidence that this is the case,” Speight said.

The models suggest screening people ages 40 to 70 may be more cost-effective than screening older patients. Screening by doctors was only slightly more expensive than screening by dentists, despite the doctors’ lack of specific training to identify oral lesions, Speight and colleagues found. They suggest that doctors may catch more cancers because they see a bigger slice of the population than their dental colleagues.

Most people do not realise they have oral cancer until the cancer is well advanced, Speight and colleagues found, which can make treatment long and costly, the researchers say. “There has been no improvement in survival for decades, and recent studies show that the incidence is increasing,” Speight added. He said the only way to reverse the trend, beyond the push to prevent smoking and heavy drinking “is by improved detection of lesions while they are small.”; Source: Health Behavior News Service