Thousands queue for check-ups to allay fears of mouth cancer
MORE than 2,000 people queued yesterday -- some for hours -- to avail of free dental check-ups as part of a drive to raise awareness of mouth, head and neck cancer.
The simple checks in the Dental Hospitals in Dublin and Cork resulted in a number of people being referred for further investigation by specialists.
Three people will die from mouth, head and neck cancer a week and for many diagnosis will come too late because of the low profile of the disease. The awareness day was organised by Mouth, Head and Neck Cancer Ireland, a group of survivors and health specialists.
By yesterday evening, 2,100 people were checked in Dublin and Cork, while another 1,000 people who could not be seen due to the scale of the response are to be given appointments for another day.
Professor June Nunn, dean of the Dublin Dental Hospital, said 750 people were checked -- some were worried about dental problems and others were anxious to find out if they had any symptoms of the cancer.
"We have taken a few referrals this morning who will go through the system. We have seen ulceration, white patches and a significant number with difficulty swallowing," she said.
She added: "We have been overwhelmed but anticipated a big turnout and laid on extra equipment as well as switching staff rosters."
Many availed of the check-up because they could not afford to go to the dentist, she added.
Doreen Kearney and Kathleen Finnerty, from Drimnagh, queued for an hour-and-a-half outside the hospital and waited another hour inside to be seen.
Ms Kearney said: "We don't think about mouth cancer. I smoke 20 cigarettes a day, so it was worth getting checked.
"I have never tried to give up and maybe I will try now and condition my mind to look out for (the symptoms). There is a lot you can bring home and read. I think it's a great idea.
Ms Finnerty gave up smoking nine years ago but was worried about her bleeding gums.
"I was told everything seemed to be fine," she said.
Marie Power, from the Donaghies in Dublin, is not a smoker, but she decided to have the check after a friend developed throat cancer.
Dentists have claimed that cuts in the medical card scheme and reductions in dental benefits for PRSI holders are forcing more people to avoid going for a check-up.
Health Minister Mary Harney praised the initiative. But she said the health budget was facing major cuts next year.
In the wake of cuts of €50m announced in the HSE West, she said hospitals -- which had their funding cut this year -- would suffer more reductions in 2011.
However, she insisted there was room for hospitals to make greater efficiencies, including treating more people on a day-care basis, in order to maximise the funding and prevent cuts.
She said there was €10m outstanding in private health insurance fees to the HSE West and this should be collected.
University College Hospital in Galway, which had a funding gap of €13m, was owed €4m in health insurance payments, she added.