Background. Compared to the U.S. states and District of Columbia, the adult population in South Carolina ranks in the high five in oral cavity and pharynx cancer mortality rate and top ten for incidence rate. Previous studies revealed a lack of knowledge related to the diagnosis of oral cancer among health professionals in the USA. This study assessed the oral cancer knowledge and experience of medical students in an academic setting. Methods. This IRB approved cross-sectional survey used a self-administered pilot-tested questionnaire and the census of the Medical University of South Carolina medical students. Data were summarized by frequencies and chi-square comparisons of pre-clinical (first and second year) and clinical (third and fourth year) students. Results. The overall response rate was 79% (450/571 students), range 61-91% by year. Significant (p < 0.001) differences were found between pre-clinical and clinical students for knowledge of risk factors, signs and symptoms of oral cancer, and tobacco cessation techniques; with clinical students more knowledgeable but at less than 78% accuracy. All students were in high agreement of the role and responsibility of physicians in tobacco cessation, and in medical history taking. Four students had seen or been instructed on how to perform an oral biopsy. Most (75%) of fourth year students felt adequately trained to palpate neck lymph nodes. However, less than 7% of all students perceived they were adequately trained to examine patients for oral cancers. Conclusions. Results suggest that these students may not receive adequate exposure to oral cancer prevention and detection knowledge and practices. Additional training to increase knowledge of risk factors and cessation counseling, and knowledge of signs and symptoms and examination skills may improve oral cancer prevention and detection. The implication is that additional education for the medical students in prevention and detection may lead to improvements in South Carolina oral cavity and pharyngeal cancer incidence and mortality rates.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health