Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be one of the most challenging experiences a person can face. Not only does it impact the patient’s physical health, but it can also take a significant emotional toll on both the patient and their loved ones. This is certainly true when it comes to oral cancer, a diagnosis that can be particularly devastating for patients and their families.
You’re pressured for time and the demands of running a practice. And it’s easy to skip the oral cancer screening. Susan Cotten, developer of the Cotten Method of Screening, said “looking back, I often wonder how often I missed a lesion because I didn’t look, or a symptom of oral cancer because I didn’t ask”.
If a you suspect that a patient may have cancer, here are 5 things you should absolutely NOT do:
- Ignore the signs: If a dentist notices any signs or symptoms of oral cancer in a patient, such as sores or lesions that do not heal, persistent pain, or swelling, it is important to take action. Ignoring these signs can lead to a delayed diagnosis and poorer outcomes for the patient.
- Make assumptions: While some risk factors, such as tobacco use or heavy alcohol consumption, can increase the likelihood of developing oral cancer, it is important for dentists to remember that anyone can develop this disease. Making assumptions based on a patient’s age, gender, or other factors can lead to missed diagnoses and delays in treatment.
- Fail to communicate: Communication is key when it comes to cancer diagnosis and treatment. If a dentist suspects that a patient may have cancer, it is important to communicate this suspicion clearly and empathetically to the patient. Failing to do so can lead to anxiety and confusion for the patient and their family.
- Delay referral: If a dentist suspects that a patient may have cancer, it is important to refer them to a specialist for further evaluation and treatment as soon as possible. Delaying referral can lead to delays in diagnosis and treatment, which can have serious consequences for the patient.
- Provide false reassurance: While it is important to offer support and empathy to patients, it is also important for dentists to be honest and transparent about the potential risks and outcomes of a cancer diagnosis. Providing false reassurance or downplaying the seriousness of the situation can lead to unrealistic expectations and potentially harmful delays in treatment.
If a dentist suspects that a patient may have cancer, it is important to take action quickly, communicate clearly and empathetically, and ensure that the patient receives prompt and appropriate care.
If your cancer diagnosis is confirmed, here’s how you can support your patient.
One of the most important things dental professionals can do when caring for patients with oral cancer is to provide emotional support. This can take many forms, from simply listening to a patient’s concerns and fears, to connecting them with support groups or counseling services. By offering emotional support, dental professionals can help patients and their families navigate the difficult journey of cancer treatment and recovery.
Patients with oral cancer may experience a range of emotions, including fear, anxiety, anger, and depression. The physical symptoms of the disease and its treatment can also impact their quality of life, further exacerbating these emotions. It is important for dental professionals to recognize the emotional impact of oral cancer and to provide support that is tailored to each patient’s individual needs.
In addition to emotional support, dental professionals can also help patients with oral cancer by providing information and resources to help them make informed decisions about their treatment options. This can include information about the risks and benefits of different treatment approaches, as well as guidance on managing the side effects of treatment.
Supporting the families of patients with oral cancer is also important. Family members may experience their own range of emotions and may need support as they navigate their loved one’s diagnosis and treatment. Dental professionals can help by providing resources for family members, connecting them with support groups, and offering guidance on how to provide care and support to their loved one during this difficult time.
The emotional impact of oral cancer cannot be overstated. By providing emotional support and resources to patients and their families, dental professionals can help improve the overall experience of cancer treatment and recovery. As healthcare professionals, it is our responsibility to care for the whole person, and that includes recognizing and addressing the emotional impact of oral cancer.