Last year, 8,722 people in the United Kingdom were diagnosed with mouth cancer, according to the Oral Health Foundation (OHF). That’s a 97% increase since 2000, with cases soaring for the eleventh year in a row and more than doubling within the last generation, OHF said.
These statistics come from OHF’s State of Mouth Cancer UK Report 2020/2021, which the charity released to coincide with November’s Mouth Cancer Action Month. With cases continuing to rise, more must be done to raise awareness of the disease, OHF said.
“While many cancers are seeing a reduction in the number of people affected, mouth cancer is one of very few that is sadly going the other way,” said Dr. Nigel Carter, OBE, OHF chief executive.
“Established risk factors like smoking and excessive alcohol have been joined by emerging causes like the human papillomavirus (HPV). This has changed the profile of the disease quite considerably over recent years, and mouth cancer can now affect anybody,” Carter said.
“The disease can have a devastating and lasting effect on a person’s life. It can change how somebody speaks, it makes eating and drinking more difficulty, and often leads to changes in a person’s physical appearance. Because of this, it also takes a heavy toll on a person’s mental health too,” said Carter.
“One of the biggest challenges we face regarding mouth cancer is how little educational support it receives from government and public health bodies. As part of Mouth Cancer Action Month, we are appealing for your help to improve awareness of the disease so that more people are able to recognize the early warning signs,” he said.
According to OHF, 67% of mouth cancers are recorded in men, while 78% are in people over the age of 55. Mouth cancer is most likely to occur in the tongue, contributing to 34% of cases. It also can appear in the tonsils, the roof and floor of the mouth, and the lips and gums.
Early warning signs include mouth ulcers that don’t heal within three weeks, red or white patches in the mouth, or unusual lumps and swellings. Persistent hoarseness also could be a symptom.
“Denplan has always championed the importance of highlighting mouth cancer to patients through our member dentists,” said Dr. Catherine Rutland, clinical director of Denplan, which is part of Simplyhealth.
“This is our twentieth year sponsoring the campaign and the amazing work that the Oral Health Foundation do, and now it is more important than ever,” Rutland said.
“The limited access to dental care as a result of the pandemic will significantly reduce the number of people who are picked up and referred early. Early diagnosis vastly improves prognosis and the risk of complications,” said Rutland.
“As dental professionals, we have the opportunity to lead conversations on mouth cancer and make sure that patients are aware of the risks, signs, and symptoms. If we can help people to make positive lifestyle choices, remain vigilant to any changes in their mouth, and seek professional help at the earliest stage, we can help to save lives,” said Rutland.
Dental Update, Denplan, Oral-B, and OHF have scheduled a series of free webinars throughout November. OHF also offers digital resources that practices can display in waiting rooms and share via email and social media. Practices that register at mouthcancer.org also will receive a free poster to display as well as an enamel Blue Ribbon Badge.