The levels of mouth cancer in the UK have doubled in the past 20 years and have grown by a third in the past decade, a new report has revealed.
A study by the Oral Health Foundation found that in 2021 a total of 8,864 people were diagnosed with the disease. This was 34 per cent higher than the figure ten years ago and 103 per cent more than 20 years ago. 3,034 people died of the disease in the UK last year, 20 per cent more than five years ago.
Chief executive of the foundation Dr Nigel Crater said this upward trend made mouth cancer exceptional compared with other types of cancer, where the instances were dropping.
Mouth cancer has historically been associated with smoking and excess drinking, but as these have been declining factors in public health in recent years they cannot be the cause of the increase.
Dr Carter explained: “Traditional causes like smoking and drinking alcohol to excess are quickly being caught by emerging risk factors like the human papillomavirus (HPV).” He added: ”The stigma around mouth cancer has changed dramatically. It’s now a cancer that really can affect anybody.”
Because HPV has proved such a malign influence and led to a rise in cases even as other causes have diminished, the organisation has declared November to be Mouth Cancer Action Month.
Over the course of the month the organisation will be highlighting the dangers of the disease, which is usually only detected at stage 4. Describing the cancer as “devastating” in its effects, Dr Carter remarked: ”It changes how somebody speaks, it makes eating and drinking more difficult, and often changes a person’s physical appearance.”
An early Sheffield cancer diagnosis may make a huge difference in outcomes for patients who take steps to get checked out as soon as the first possible signs of disease appear, enabling treatments to begin sooner. Mouth Cancer Action Month aims to raise awareness to get more people to speak to their GP or dentist if they have any signs of it.
Early mouth cancer indicators can include inflamed patches that look like persistent mouth ulcer, or unusual lumps or swellings, either in the mouth or on the neck. A third of mouth cancers are found on the tongue and just under a quarter are found on the tonsils. The lips, gums and inside of the cheeks are also possible sites for the disease.
Another form of oral cancer to look out for is tongue cancer. In a feature on one patient’s experience of the disease to mark Mouth Cancer Action Month, Dentistry Magazine told the story of patient Barbara Fountain, who had a persistent ulcer on her tongue and was ultimately referred by her dentist to the local hospital for checks.
This led to her diagnosis and subsequent treatment, with the disease being caught at stage one and being excised with surgery. However, it had been found early enough not to require chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
Ms Fountain subsequently set up ‘Young Tongues’, a support group for young people with experience of tongue cancer.