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Abstract

INTRODUCTION Oral complications can be profound in patients undergoing cancer therapy, negatively impacting quality of life, and potentially postponing or disrupting treatment. While oncology team members seek to deliver optimal oral care, evidence-based management of oral complications and knowledge in the provision of oral care poses a challenge to attaining satisfactory reductions in complications such as oral mucositis, xerostomia and rampant dental caries.

METHODS A cross-sectional, random sample (N=2,000) of members of the Oncology Nursing Society were surveyed via a Web-based questionnaire to identify knowledge of oral care, oral health management practices and factors influencing provision of oral care for patients being treated for cancer. Frequencies were calculated for demographic and categorical data. Education, years of experience, and comfort levels were measured and correlated to identified subscales of knowledge, management of oral complications, and use of evidence-based protocols for high-risk patients.

RESULTS Over 75% of respondents reported some to little oral health content in their primary education. Significant correlations were found between the three subscales and the variables years of experience and comfort levels (p≤0.05). Use of evidence-based protocols and oral management increased with levels of oral healthcare education and years of experience (p≤0.05).

CONCLUSIONS Results of this investigation suggest a need for the inclusion of more education in general nursing programs addressing oral healthcare of cancer patients, as well as continuing education for practicing oncology professionals. Additionally, findings support the inclusion of dental hygienists, oral health/disease prevention experts, as members of interdisciplinary teams caring for cancer patients.

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