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Public awareness of mouth cancer symptoms low, despite sharp rise in cases

Disease accounts for more than 8000 diagnoses and nearly 3000 deaths every year

Caroline White

Monday, 05 November 2018

The number of mouth cancer cases has risen sharply over the past decade, but most Brits are unaware of the signs and symptoms associated with the disease, reveals a report from the Oral Health Foundation (OHF).

More must be done to raise public awareness of the disease, which killed 2,722 people in Britain last year, says the OHF.

Nearly 8300 people are now diagnosed with mouth cancer every year–a 49% increase compared to a decade ago, and a 135% increase compared to 20 years' ago, the report shows.

The 10-year survival rate is between 19% and 58%, depending on where the cancer strikes and how early it is diagnosed.

But just under half (45%) of British adults admit they don’t know anything about mouth cancer. Three in four (75%) say they wouldn’t recognise the symptoms, and more than eight out of 10 would be hard pressed to say where the signs can appear.

Published in conjunction with Simplyhealth Professionals to mark the start of November’s Mouth Cancer Action Month, the findings also show very little understanding of the risk factors associated with the disease.

“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,” comments chief executive of the OHF, Dr Nigel Carter.

“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, so that we can help protect ourselves and others around us.

“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.”

Tobacco, alcohol, the human papillomavirus, and poor diet are the leading causes of the disease, with early warning signs mouth ulcers that last longer than three weeks, red or white patches and unusual lumps and swellings.

While over half (56%) of mouth cancers appear on the tongue and tonsils, the disease can also appear on the lips, head, and neck.

British Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (BAOMS) said today as the specialist surgeons welcomed the OHF State of Mouth Cancer UK Report launched today at the start of the month-long mouth cancer awareness campaign.

Kathy Fan, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon and BAOMS council member, said that many of last year’s deaths could have been prevented.

“More must be done to raise public awareness of the signs that could indicate oral cancer, and early referral and diagnosis by clinicians are essential to avoid aggressive, lengthy and life-altering treatment. As it is, people with mouth cancer are more likely to die than if they had cervical or skin cancer.”

She added: “Anyone can be affected by mouth cancer, and worryingly it is now becoming more common in younger patients and in women. It’s why BAOMS supported the extension of the HPV jab to boys.”

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