17 November 2015

Leading UK health charity, the British Dental Health Foundation, is calling for urgent action to raise awareness of human papilloma virus (HPV) following an 88 per cent rise in mouth cancer cases.

Statistics from Cancer Research UK show the number of people diagnosed with mouth cancer have soared by a third in both men and women over the last decade alone and have increased by an astonishing 88 per cent since the 1970's.

Until now, smoking and excessive alcohol use have been associated with the disease, however, experts now say that it is HPV, which can be transferred through oral sex, that is largely responsible for the growing number of mouth cancers in the UK.

Every year more than 6,500 Brits are diagnosed with mouth cancer, with the disease taking in excess of 2,000 lives - more than testicular and cervical cancer combined.

Mouth cancer is one of the fastest increasing cancers and, with health leaders predicting that HPV will soon become the major cause of the disease; campaigners are calling for greater education about the sexually-transmitted disease.

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, says: "HPV is very common and almost every sexually-active person will get it at some time in their lives. Most people never develop health problems as a result of HPV and around 90 per cent infections usually go away by themselves within two years. However, sometimes HPV infections persist and may cause a variety of serious problems."

Boy HPV VaccinationA new poll investigating our knowledge of HPV show that the majority of us are aware of HPV and its link to cervical cancer but most are oblivious of its relationship with mouth cancer. A recent survey by the charity revealed that less than one in five people were aware that HPV is a cause of mouth cancer.

"With mouth cancer rates predicted to increase further over the next fifteen years, it is vitally important that we take action as soon as possible," adds Dr Carter.

"We are not saying don't have oral sex, but we do want everyone to be more aware of the signs and symptoms of mouth cancer so if they are unfortunate enough to develop them they can get treated as quickly as possible."

Throughout November the charity are running Mouth Cancer Action Month, a campaign sponsored by Denplan, to raise awareness of mouth cancer by increasing education about the early warning signs and symptoms and promoting early detection and its role in saving lives.

Early diagnosis transforms chances of beating the disease from 50 per cent to 90 per cent and the charity is asking us to be aware of mouth ulcers which do not heal within three weeks, red or white patches in the mouth and unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth or head and neck area.

If you notice any of these symptoms, please visit your dentist of doctor as soon as possible.

Dr Carter says: "Our new study shows that as many as three in four of us do not realise that a dentist will check us for mouth cancer as part of a general dental check-up. Dentists don't just keep our teeth and gums healthy but they can also save our lives. Regular check-ups are vital."

In addition to raising awareness about being aware of changes in the mouth, Mouth Cancer Action Month is calling for a change in the UK HPV vaccination programme to protect all men and women in the UK.

As it stands, the current vaccination programme only includes school age girls to protect them against cervical cancer, leaving men completed unprotected.

"One of the main aspects we want to tackle during Mouth Cancer Action Month is the issue of HPV gender neutral vaccinations. It is not right to withhold an effective health intervention which could save thousands of lives on the basis of gender. HPV affects both sexes and both sexes should be equally protected.

"The vaccination is currently given to girls to protect against cervical cancers but over the last decade we have seen an alarming growth in HPV-related mouth cancers cases. HPV is also responsible for penile cancers, anal cancers, genital warts - of which there 48,000 cases every year.

"With 85 per cent of the populations strongly believing that a gender neutral vaccination programme should be introduced, the calls for it are getting stronger and stronger. We must all get behind it to make it happen."