Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Sources and patterns of referrals of oral cancer: role of general practitioners.

Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1986; 293 doi: (Published 06 September 1986) Cite this as: Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1986;293:599
  1. C Scully,
  2. D Malamos,
  3. B G Levers,
  4. S R Porter,
  5. S S Prime


    Referrals of patients with oral squamous cell carcinomas to an oral medicine clinic were assessed with regard to the sources, delays, and pattern of referrals from general medical practitioners and general dental practitioners. Slightly more patients were referred by dental practitioners than by medical practitioners, but general medical practitioners were far more likely to see advanced tumours and to request an urgent second opinion or suggest a diagnosis of malignant disease. The greatest delay overall was caused by the patients in seeking advice from their practitioner, particularly those who attended a general medical practitioner. Both groups of practitioners requested a hospital opinion within roughly a month--a reasonable interval. Subsequent delays were minimal. Delays occur mainly because the patients are slow in seeking professional advice and, in general, do not appear to have been reduced over the decade since a previous British study on referral patterns was carried out. This study emphasises the importance of educating patients about oral cancer since it is they who appear to be mainly responsible for the delays in diagnosis. The results also help to dispel the myth that general medical practitioners might be less competent at diagnosis and referral of patients with oral cancer than are dental practitioners, though we are aware of misdiagnoses from both groups.