Cancer can occur in any part of the mouth, tongue, lips, throat, salivary glands, pharynx, larynx, sinus, and other sites located in the head and neck area.

How Common is Mouth Cancer?

  • In the UK 38,000 people are living with a diagnosis of head and neck cancer.
  • Around 60,000 people in the UK will be diagnosed with mouth cancer over the next decade.

What Causes Mouth Cancer?

  • Tobacco use is still considered the main cause of mouth cancer. According to the World Health Organisation, up to half of current smokers will die of a tobacco-related illness – including mouth cancer.
  • Tobacco users are 6 times more likely to develop head & neck cancer.
  • 75% of mouth and throat cancers occur in tobacco users.
  • Alcohol is another common cause of mouth cancer. Drinking to excess can increase the risk of mouth cancer by four times. 
  • 3 in 4 people, who have mouth cancer, smoke and consume alcohol.  
  • Experts suggest the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), transmitted through oral sex, could overtake tobacco and alcohol as the main risk factor within the coming decade.
  • Poor diet is linked to a third of all mouth cancer cases.

Mouth Cancer – The Facts

  • Oral and pharyngeal cancer is the sixth most common malignancy reported worldwide and one with high mortality ratios among all malignancies.

  • The global number of new cases was estimated at 405,318 about two-thirds of them arising in developing countries.

  • Highest rates are reported in South Asian countries such as India and Sri Lanka.

  • The Indian sub-continent accounts for one-third of the world burden.

  • The incidence and mortality from oral cancer is rising in several regions of Europe, Taiwan, Japan and Australia.

  • Every year in Europe, around 100,800 people are diagnosed with head and neck cancer and almost 40,000 die from the disease.

  • In the USA alone, 30,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer each year. About 90 percent of head and neck cancers are of the squamous cell variety.

  • Although there have been significant improvements in chemotherapy and surgical techniques, the disease is often particularly challenging to treat since most patients present with advanced disease, have secondary tumours and suffer from other co-morbidities.

  • Unfortunately 5-year survival rate has not improved (50% overall) for the last few decades except in specialized cancer centres.

  • These ‘Mouth Cancers’ have a higher proportion of deaths per number of cases than breast cancer, cervical cancer or skin melanoma.

  • In the UK, there were 7,700 cases of mouth, throat and head and neck cancers in 2011.

  • The mortality rate is just over 50%, despite treatment, with 2,718 deaths occurring in 2005.

  • Mouth cancer kills one person every 3 hours in the UK because of late detection.

  • Age is another factor, with people over the age of 40 more likely to be diagnosed, though more young people are now being affected than previously.

  • 25% of mouth cancer cases have no associated significant risk factors.

  • Mouth cancer is twice as common in men than in women, though an increasing number of women are being doagnosed with the disease.

Mouth Cancer - The Signs and Symptoms.

In its very early stages, mouth cancers can be almost invisible making it easy to ignore.  Chances of survival are improved if the cancer is detected early and rapidly treated.   It is important to have self-awareness and to perform regular, self-examinations to help in the early identification. Common symptoms include:

  • A sore or ulcer in the mouth that does not heal within three weeks.
  • A lump or overgrowth of tissue anywhere in the mouth.
  • A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, or lining of the mouth.
  • Difficulty in swallowing.
  • Difficulty in chewing or moving the jaw or tongue.
  • Numbness of the tongue or other area of the mouth.
  • A feeling that something is caught in the throat.
  • A chronic sore throat or voice change (hoarseness) that persists more than six weeks, particularly smokers over 50 years old and heavy drinkers.
  • Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable.
  • Neck swelling present for more than three weeks.
  • Unexplained tooth mobility persisting for  more than three weeks - see a dentist urgently.
  • Persistent nasal (especially unilateral)l nasal obstruction, particularly associated with mucus (clear, purulent or bloody) discharge causing difficulty breathing through nose.
  • Unexplained persistent earache.

Reduce your chances of getting these cancers by:

  • Not smoking or chewing tobacco, gutkha/paan
  • Limiting alcohol consumption.
  • Having a healthier low meat, low fat diet, rich in vegetables and fruit with servings of bread, cereals or beans everyday.
  • A high proportion of oropharyngeal cancers in nonsmokers and younger adults have been associated with HPV. The mode of transmission may be frequent oral sex in adolescents and young adults.

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