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Challenges in global improvement of oral cancer outcomes: findings from rural Northern India

Jyoti Dangi1, Taru H Kinnunen1 and Athanasios I Zavras23*

Author Affiliations

1 Dept. of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Harvard, Boston, MA

2 Dept. of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard, Boston, MA

3 Dept. of Oral Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Columbia University College for Dental Medicine, Columbia, New York, NY

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Tobacco Induced Diseases 2012, 10:5  doi:10.1186/1617-9625-10-5

Published: 12 April 2012



In India, 72% of the population resides in rural areas and 30-40% of cancers are found in the oral cavity. The majority of Haryana residents live in villages where inadequate medical facilities, no proper primary care infrastructure or cancer screening tools and high levels of illiteracy all contribute to poor oral cancer (OC) outcomes. In this challenging environment, the objective of this study was to assess the association between various risk factors for OC among referrals for suscipious lesions and to design and pilot test a collaborative community-based effort to identify suspicious lesions for OC.


Setting: Community-based cross sectional OC screening.

Participants: With help from the Department of Health (DOH), Haryana and the local communities, we visited three villages and recruited 761 participants of ages 45-95 years. Participants received a visual oral cancer examination and were interviewed about their dental/medical history and personal habits. Pregnant women, children and males/females below 45 years old with history of OC were excluded.

Main outcome: Presence of a suspicious oral lesion.


Out of 761 participants, 42 (5.5%) were referred to a local dentist for follow-up of suspicious lesions. Males were referred more than females. The referral group had more bidi and hookah smokers than non smokers as compared to non referral group. The logistic regression analysis revealed that smoking bidi and hookah (OR = 3.06 and 4.42) were statistically significant predictors for suspicious lesions.


Tobacco use of various forms in rural, northern India was found to be quite high and a main risk factor for suspicious lesions. The influence of both the DOH and community participation was crucial in motivating people to seek care for OC.