01 November 2019

New cases of mouth cancer in the United Kingdom have risen to a record high, according to the findings of a new report.

Figures collected by the Oral Health Foundation show that 8,337 people in the UK were diagnosed with the disease last year.  This has increased by nearly two-thirds (64%) since 2007 1 .

New cases of mouth cancer have increased for the tenth year in a row and have more than doubled within the last generation.

The findings are part of the charity’s new State of Mouth Cancer UK Report 2019/2020 and have been released to coincide with November’s Mouth Cancer Action Month.

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, says the charity is fighting an uphill battle against mouth cancer and more must be done to raise awareness of the disease.

Dr Carter says: “While most cancers are on the decrease, cases of mouth cancer continue to rise at an alarming rate.  Traditional causes like smoking and drinking alcohol to excess are quickly being caught by emerging risk factors like the human papillomavirus (HPV).  The stigma around mouth cancer has changed dramatically. It’s now a cancer that really can affect anybody.

“We have seen first-hand the devastating affect mouth cancer can have on a person’s life.  It changes how somebody speaks, it makes eating and drinking more difficult, and often changes a person’s physical appearance.  

“During Mouth Cancer Action Month, we will be raising greater awareness of mouth cancer.  We urge everybody to become more ‘mouthaware’ by being able to recognise the early warning signs of mouth cancer and to be aware of the common causes. Most importantly, if you notice anything unusual, please don’t delay and seek help from a doctor or dentist.”

Stuart Caplan is someone with a very personal experience of mouth cancer.  Diagnosed with tongue cancer, the husband and father-of-one from Marble Arch, lost two-thirds of his tongue to the disease.

Stuart says his everyday life has changed dramatically since getting mouth cancer: “One thing that has been really affected by my cancer is eating.  The chemotherapy and radiotherapy took a big toll on my mouth and with two-thirds less of my tongue eating and swallowing is really difficult.

“When we’re out for a meal, my wife Susan will often spot me having trouble swallowing to the point of choking.  She will have to pat my back to help digest my food else I’ll suffocate.  Something as simple as going out for meal is now a much more complicated than it was before mouth cancer.”

Like Stuart’s case, the report shows that most mouth cancers are located in the tongue. One-in-three (33%) mouth cancers are diagnosed in the tongue, while nearly one-in-four (23%) are caught in the tonsils 1 . The palate, floor of the mouth, lips and gums are the other common places where mouth cancer occurs.

Mouth cancer can appear as a mouth ulcer which does not heal, red or white patches in the mouth, or unusual lumps or swellings.

The research also found that 2,701 people lost their life to mouth cancer last year 1 . That’s seven people every day.

Survival rates in the UK have barely improved in the last 20 years.

Dr Catherine Rutland, Head Dental Officer at Denplan, part of Simplyhealth, hopes that the State of Mouth Cancer Report will provide a wake-up call on the issue of mouth cancer.

Dr Rutland says: “This report highlights that, despite the many efforts of health professionals and campaigners, there is still much work to be done in tackling mouth cancer.  Not only are more people being diagnosed but more lives are also being lost too.

“Awareness campaigns such as Mouth Cancer Action Month and #BlueLipSelfie are instrumental in changing what we know about the disease.  Charities like the Oral Health Foundation do fantastic work to raise the profile of mouth cancer, but they cannot do it alone. The more we can equip people with understanding the risks of mouth cancer and make lifestyle changes, as well as recognising the signs and symptoms of the disease and seek professional help at the earliest stage, the more lives we can save.”

Useful links: State of Mouth Cancer UK Report 2019/2020