Oral Cancer Rates Increase by 49% Over the Past Decade

Dentistry Today


Nearly 8,300 people a year are diagnosed with oral cancer in the United Kingdom—a 49% increase compared to a decade ago, according to the Oral Health Foundation’s State of Mouth Cancer Report. The organization also notes that most people in the UK are unaware of the signs and symptoms as well as the risk factors associated with the disease. 

According to the report, 45% of British adults admit to not having any understanding about oral cancer, 75% say they don’t know the symptoms, and 82% don’t know where oral cancer appears.

“We have published this report to highlight the need for greater awareness of mouth cancer. It is extremely concerning to see the lack of basic knowledge about the disease, especially as it continues to affect more people every year,” said Dr. Nigel Carter, OBE, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation.

“For so long, mouth cancer seems to have gone under the radar. It is now time for us to take notice and learn what we need to do so that we can help protect ourselves and others around us,” said Carter. “It is so important to understand what is most likely to put us at risk, how we can spot mouth cancer, and where we can go if we see anything out of the ordinary.” 

Smoking tobacco, excessive alcohol consumption, the human papillomavirus (HPV), and poor diet are the leading causes of the disease. Early warning signs include mouth ulcers that last longer than three weeks, red or white patches, and unusual lumps and swellings. The disease can appear in the mouth, lips, head, and neck.

“We must use this report, along with campaigns like Mouth Cancer Action Month, as a springboard to help increase awareness of mouth cancer,” said Dr. Catherine Rutland, head of professional support services at Simplyhealth Professionals. “Mouth cancer is beatable, but we have to act quickly. An early diagnosis is vital and can not only save a life but also improve quality of life.”

Other findings of the report include: 

  • New cases of oral cancer in the UK have now reached 8,302 a year.
  • This has increased by 49% in the last decade and 135% compared to 20 years ago.
  • 56% of oral cancers appear on the tongue and tonsils.
  • Last year, 2,722 British people died of oral cancer.
  • The 10-year survival rate is between 19% and 58%, depending on where the cancer strikes and how early it is diagnosed.
  • 88% of British adults have now heard of oral cancer, but only 8% are confident about their knowledge of the disease.

Better lifestyle choices, earlier diagnosis, and improved access to dentistry are some of the key challenges in confronting oral cancer, according to the Oral Health Foundation, which is joining other advocacy groups in calling for more investment in community dentistry and catchup programs for HPV vaccinations.

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