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If in doubt, get checked out…for Mouth Cancer Action Month

  • Do you know the risks of mouth cancer?

    By Ben Lees

To raise awareness and thereby increase early detection of mouth cancer during Mouth Cancer Action Month this November, the British Dental Health Organisation are compelling the public to visit their dentist for a screening with the advice, “If in doubt, get checked out”.

Mouth cancer is on the rise and over the years several surveys suggest people do not know enough about mouth cancer so here are some brief facts:

– Since 2000, the number of new diagnoses of mouth cancer has risen by over 50%. In 2011, there were 7,698people diagnosed with mouth cancer [1] ;

– In 2010, a poll revealed that 1 in 10 people had not even heard of the condition even in light of widespread publicity covering Michael Douglas’ diagnoses and treatment [2] ;

– Mouth cancer is responsible for more deaths in the UK than cervical and testicular cancer combined [3] ;

– Those traditionally at risk are people aged over 40 and almost twice as many men than women are diagnosed. In more recent years, however, there have been increased diagnoses of younger sufferers of mouth cancer [4] ;

– The main cause of mouth cancer is tobacco consumption and this doesn’t just include smoking, but also chewing tobacco [5] ;

– There are three other factors known to cause mouth cancer, excessive alcohol consumption, a poor diet and the HPV16 virus (a seemingly asymptomatic sexually transmitted disease that can cause cervical cancer) [6] ;

– By smoking and drinking, a person is 30 times more likely to develop mouth cancer and, it is estimated, half of current cases are linked to poor diet [7] ;

– An  ex-smoker reduces their risk by 50% within the first 3-5 years of being smoke-free [8];

– Once an ex-smoker has ceased tobacco consumption for 10 years, they are considered to have the same risk as a lifelong non-smoker [9] ;


The most important reason to raise awareness of mouth cancer is that in the UK, mouth cancer claims the lives of about 1,800 people per year – this means that on average a person dies of mouth cancer every 5 hours [10] .  Yet an early diagnosis gives sufferers a 90% chance of survival because mouth cancer can be successfully treated if caught early enough. However, there are additional risks: although mouth cancer may have been treated, reports suggest that only 50% of mouth cancer patients survive past 5 years [11] .

This evidence shows how it is important to reduce our exposure to the risk factors we can control, like smoking and drinking. However, if mouth cancer presents itself, early detection is vital and if you are concerned that an earlier diagnosis of mouth cancer should have been made then please call a specialist from our dental negligence team who will be able to discuss your circumstances with you.

Dental practices are offering free mouth cancer screenings throughout November and December in aid of Mouth Cancer Action Month. We feel it is important to take advantage of this opportunity but if you cannot find a local screening near you, don’t be embarrassed to ask your dentist to screen you for oral cancer – chances are, they’ve been doing it all along.

[1] British Dental Health Foundation statistic

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Cancer Research UK

[5] British Dental Health Foundation statistic

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Cancer Research UK

[9] British Dental Foundation statistic

[10] Cancer Research UK

[11] Speight & Warnakulasuriya, May 2010, Oral Cancer Screening Review

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