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Mouth cancer cases rise by 135% but an alarming number of us are unable to spot the early warning signs

Date: 05 June 2019

Cases of mouth cancer in the United Kingdom have more than doubled inside the last generation, yet an alarming number of us are still unable to identify the early warning signs and symptoms.

Last year, more than 8,300 British adults were given the news that they had mouth cancer.  This is an increase of around 135% compared with 20 years ago and the highest since records began.

Despite this, new figures released by the Oral Health Foundation shows that three-in-four (75%) of us remain unaware about the symptoms of mouth cancer.

There is also uncertainty about where mouth cancer appears while more than four-in-five (82%) of us do not know how to check ourselves for mouth cancer.

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, says with the number of cases on the rise, it is important for us to know how to spot the early signs of mouth cancer and know how to perform a simple self-check.

Dr Carter says: “In the UK, and around the world, the number of people affected by mouth cancer continues to grow at an astonishing rate.  Anyone of us are at risk of mouth cancer, whether we have our own teeth or not. That’s why it is so important to know how and where mouth cancer can strike.

“Look for mouth ulcers that do not heal within three weeks, red or white patches in the mouth and unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth or head and neck. Persistent hoarseness could also be a potential sign of mouth cancer.

“A quick self-check at home takes as little as 45 seconds. By examining the mouth, lips, head and neck as part of our morning routine, we can help catch mouth cancer early and drastically improve our chances of beating it.”

The research published as part of November’s Mouth Cancer Action Month, reveals less than half of us identify long-lasting mouth ulcers (42%), red or white patches (31%) and unusual lumps (47%) as potential warning signs of cancer.

Awareness is especially low for those groups who may be more at risk of mouth cancer.

Three-in-five (60%) smokers and almost nine-in-ten (89%) of those who drink more than 20-units of alcohol a week, cannot identify the symptoms of mouth cancer.  Men are around 25% less likely to know symptoms associated with mouth cancer compared to women, while a large proportion of over-65s (85%) do also not know what to look for.

Around two-in-three mouth cancers are linked to smoking and a third to alcohol.  Mouth cancer is twice more common in men than women while nearly half (42%) of all cases are diagnosed in the over-65.

“Although mouth cancer can affect anyone, there are certain things that are likely to increase our risk,” adds Dr Carter.

“Mouth cancer is heavily linked to smoking and alcohol, and a combination of doing both can increase our risk by over 30-times. The human papillomavirus (HPV), transmitted through oral sex, is another strong cause.

“All of us should be knowledgeable and vigilant when it comes to recognising mouth cancer, but those at greater risk need to pay even more attention.

“Mouth Cancer Action Month is the perfect opportunity to become mouthaware by learning the risks and early signs of mouth cancer. It is also important that we not only recognise, but act on unusual changes in the mouth.  If you notice anything out of the ordinary, get checked out by your dentist or doctor.”


Adapted by Institute of Dental Implants & Periodontics from original Oral Health Foundation post (November 2018)

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