This study presents the strategies for prevention and early detection of oral cancer by means of screening in the elderly population of São Paulo, the richest and the most populous state of Brazil. This research was a retrospective longitudinal study based on the analysis of secondary data. The variables - number of participating cities, coverage of screening, and number of suspicious and confirmed cases of oral cancer - were divided into two periods: 2001-2004 and 2005-2008. Data were analyzed statistically by the chi-square test at 5% significance level. The implementation of a nationwide public oral health policy in 2004 and the reorganization of the secondary and tertiary health care were evaluated as mediator factors able to interfere in the achieved outcomes. From 2001 to 2008, 2,229,273 oral examinations were performed. There was an addition of 205 participating cities by the end of the studied period (p<0.0001). The coverage of oral cancer screening increased from 4.1% to 16% (p<0.0001). There was a decrease in the number of suspicious lesions (from 9% in 2005 to 5% in 2008) (p<0.0001) and in the rate of confirmed oral cancer cases per 100,000 examinations (from 20.89 in 2001 to 10.40 in 2008) (p<0.0001). After 8 years of screening, there was a decrease in the number of suspicious lesions and confirmed cases of oral cancer in the population. The reorganization of secondary and tertiary health care levels of oral care seems to have contributed to modify these numbers, having a positive impact on the outcomes of oral cancer screening in the São Paulo State.
oral neoplasms; public health; public policy; campaign; screening