BACKGROUND: To assess non-medical university students’ knowledge and perceived risk of developing oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer.
METHODS: A cross-sectional survey was conducted among non-medical students of a private Midwestern university in the United States in May 2012. Questionnaire assessed demographic information and contained 21 previously validated questions regarding knowledge and perceived risk of developing oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer. Knowledge scale was categorized into low and high. Risk level was estimated based on smoking, drinking, and sexual habits. Bivariate associations between continuous and categorical variables were assessed using Pearson correlation and Chi-square tests, respectively.
RESULTS: The response rate was 87% (100 out of 115 students approached). Eighty-one percent (81%) had low oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer knowledge; and only 2% perceived that their oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer risk was high. Risk perception was negatively correlated with age at sexual debut, r (64) = -0.26, p = 0.037; one-way ANOVA showed a marginally significant association between risk perception and number of sexual partners, F(4, 60) = 2.48, p = 0.05. There was no significant association between knowledge and perception of risk; however, oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer knowledge was significantly associated with frequency of prevention of STDs (p < 0.05). Although 86% had heard about oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer, only 18% had heard of oral mouth examination, and 7% of these reported ever having an oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer exam.
CONCLUSIONS: Oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer knowledge and risk perception is low among this student population. Since oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer incidence is increasingly shifting towards younger adults, interventions must be tailored to this group in order to improve prevention and control.