The incidence of mouth cancer has always been related to age with just under half or 44% of all mouth cancer cases diagnosed in the UK were in people aged 65 and over; with more than a quarter diagnosed in the under 55’s.
Oral cancer is more deadly than breast cancer, cervical cancer or skin cancer with mortality rates of 50% in the UK despite treatment. This high figure is thought to be mainly due to late detection.
Mouth cancers are more common in men who are twice more likely to develop mouth cancer than women although this gap has significantly diminished over time. The incidence in men tends to peak at the age 60-69 years where as for women the peak is seen in those over 80 years of age.
The most well established risk factors for the major types of oral cancer are excessive alcohol consumption and smoking; it is not surprising that mouth cancer rates are strongly associated with deprivation. Incidence rates for head and neck cancer are more than double for men living in more deprived areas of England compared with least deprived areas and more than 74% higher for women in the same areas. Published results for Northern Ireland and Wales are similar while Scotland shows an even larger deprivation gap.
Common Risk Factors
This is considered to be the leading cause of mouth cancer in the UK and is brought about by tobacco use transforming saliva into a deadly cocktail that damages cells in the mouth thereby leaving them prone to cancerous changes. Trying to quit smoking is not easy and getting the help of a professional has been shown to make smokers four times more likely to quit.
A combination of smoking and excessive drinking means that a person is 30 times more likely to develop mouth cancer while drinking excessively leads to a 4 times more likely risk of developing the disease.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
A rise of mouth cancer cases in younger people has been attributed to HPV which is transmitted through sexual activities. Experts estimate that the virus may rival tobacco and alcohol as a leading risk factor in years to come but one comforting fact is that there is a greater survival rate with cases of mouth cancer caused by the HPV.
The benefits of eating a healthy balanced diet with five portions of fruit and vegetables each day are well documented and there is increasing evidence that suggests Omega 3 found in foods such as eggs and fish can help lower risks along with foods that are high in fibre such as nuts, seeds, whole-wheat pasta and brown rice.
Contrary to popular belief any tobacco product placed in the mouth or nose and not burned is far more dangerous when it comes to mouth cancer. These products are very common particularly in the South Asian communities especially amongst women. The incidence of mouth cancer among south Asian women is significantly greater.
What to Look Out For?
Mouth Cancer can present in a number of different areas including the lips, tongue, gums and cheeks. People must examine their mouth on a regular basis in addition to going to the dentist who will do the same for them.
Non-healing mouth ulcers, red or white patches on the tongue or gums or on the cheek mucosa are the most common symptoms of mouth cancer. Other symptoms include lumps or swellings in the mouth or less common symptoms like pain on chewing or swallowing, a persistent sore throat that does not go away, thickening of the cheek and unusual pain, bleeding or numbness in the mouth.
Should I Have a Check?
Early detection of mouth cancer saves lives giving patients a 90% chance of survival compared to delayed detection giving a five year survival rate of just 50% in mouth cancer patients.
Everyone should visit their dentist at least once a year to have a check. Here at Merton Dental our 15 Point Dental Health Check means all our patients are routinely screened for signs of mouth cancer on their routine recall visits and all our staff are trained to spot early signs and symptoms in addition to been able to advise high risk patients on their risk factors.
We believe that as a responsible dentist in Wimbledon, we can help. We are therefore also holding an afternoon event on Thursday the 29th November 2012 where we will do a “Free Oral Cancer Screen” for anyone that wants to attend. For further details, please call the surgery on 020 8544 1122.