Men Are More Than Twice as Likely to Get Oral Cancer as Women

Dentistry Today


Men are more than twice as likely as women to develop oral cancer, according to Cancer Research UK. The organization reports that around 5,300 men are diagnosed with oral cancer each year in the United Kingdom, compared to about 2,500 women. It also is more often diagnosed in men at a younger age compared to other cancers. Though it is the eleventh most common male cancer overall, it is the fourth most common among men aged 45 to 59 years. 

Approximately nine out of 10 oral cancer cases in the UK are linked to preventable causes like smoking, alcohol, and human papillomavirus (HPV) acquired through sexual behavior. The difference between cases in men and women, Cancer Research UK says, may be due to men indulging more heavily in these activities. For example, men have higher smoking rates than women, and about 70% of male oral and pharyngeal cancers in the UK are linked to tobacco.

Still, rates of oral cancer have been increasing among men and women, with rates in the United Kingdom rising from 10 cases per 100,000 people a year a decade ago to 13 cases per 100,000 today. Symptoms for patients and practitioners alike to look out for include ulcers that don’t heal, lumps in the neck, lip, or mouth, white or red patches in the mouth, and difficulty swallowing.

“I had heard about lung cancer, liver cancer, stomach cancer, bowel cancer. But I didn’t realize there was a thing called mouth cancer. It was shocking news,” said Mike Donoghue, 57, of County Durham, who was diagnosed by his general practitioner (GP) with oral cancer 10 years ago after discovering a lump in his neck while shaving.

“I had noticed something unusual before I felt anything, but I thought it was just a muscle,” said Donoghue, who had surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy after his diagnosis. “By the time I went to get it checked out, the lump was quite large, about the size of a golf ball. I would encourage anyone who notices something that’s not normal for them to get it checked out as soon as possible.”

Cancer Research UK offers a free online educational resource for dentists and GPs to help them spot the disease earlier, supported by the British Dental Association. The Oral Cancer Recognition Toolkit includes information on what to look out for, how to refer patients for further tests, and how to prevent the disease.

“It’s a real concern that so many men are getting oral cancer and that it’s been on the rise in both men and women. But the vast majority of oral cancer cases are preventable, so the good news is that people can cut their risk by quitting smoking and cutting down on alcohol,” said Richard Roope, MBBS, MSc, lead GP at Cancer Research UK.

“It’s also vital that everyone knows what their mouth, tongue, and gums usually feel like so they can spot anything out of the ordinary,” Roope said. “Early diagnosis is absolutely key for the best results, which is why we’re set on helping dentists and GPs catch oral cancer sooner.”

“Having referred patients with suspected oral cancers, I know that the earlier it’s spotted and diagnosed, the better the chances are for successful treatment,” said Nick Stolls, BDS, a dentist with the British Dental Association. “So, it’s crucial that dentists and GPs know the signs to look out for and that patients bring anything suspicious to their attention as soon as possible.”

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