15 Dec

Dental charity highlights the ‘big 3’ risk factors for oral cancer

Dental charity, the Oral Health Foundation, is raising awareness of the causes of oral cancer by highlighting the ‘big 3’ risk factors.

The foundation is educating people about the causes of mouth cancer after a survey revealed that only 15% of people are aware of the main risk factors. The study, which was conducted as part of Mouth Cancer Action Month, which ran throughout November, suggested that awareness is much poorer than other types of cancer, despite the fact that oral cancer cases have doubled in the last twenty years in the UK.

The Oral Health Foundation is encouraging people to be aware of the impact of three key risk factors: smoking, drinking heavily and exposure to the HPV (human papilloma virus).

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, chief executive of the charity, said that even though the number of people who smoke is decreasing, it remains the most significant cause of mouth cancer. The charity is offering support for smokers who want to cut down or quit. Smokers are up to ten times more likely to develop mouth cancer than non-smokers.

Drinking is another major risk factor. Research suggests that people who drink between 10 and 42 units of alcohol per week could increase their risk of developing oral cancer by up to 80%. The NHS currently recommends a maximum weekly intake of 14 units.

Dr Carter explained that HPV usually causes no harm and it is a very common virus, but in some cases, HPV infection can put people at greater risk of some types of cancer, including mouth cancer. In the UK, boys and girls in Year 8 have access to the HPV vaccine to lower infection risks. Practising safe sex can also help to offer protection, Dr Carter added.

The latest statistics indicate that there are now around 9,000 new cases of mouth cancer diagnosed every year in the UK. Experts are encouraging patients to try to reduce risks and to be mouth aware so that they are able to spot symptoms early. Common signs include slow-healing ulcers and sores, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness and a persistent sore throat, lumps or abnormal swelling and red or white patches in the mouth or throat.