Early detection reduces oral cancer deaths – new study


London: EXPERT studies have warned that late detection of mouth cancer is causing unnecessary deaths, backing the UK’s leading oral health charity’s Mouth Cancer Action Week 2008 campaign message.

A Journal of Prosthodontics study has called on greater emphasis on oral cancer screening. Early detection of oral cancer leads to a 95 per cent survival rate – yet currently the majority of cases are picked up late – with less than half surviving beyond five years.

The British Dental Health Foundation led the November’s Mouth Cancer Action Week with the call ‘If in doubt, get checked out.’

Foundation chief executive Dr Nigel Carter BDS LDS (RCS) said: “The majority of oral cancers are diagnosed at a late stage – which means so many deaths are unnecessary. Mouth cancer is often painless, this hidden killer causes a death every five hours in the UK.

“The public and the profession must all work together to make sure were stay aware of the dangers. Dentists and hygienists must communicate with their patients on this issue; while it is vital people visit their dentist regularly.”

Researchers at the Journal of Prosthodontics called for greater commitment from dentists to looking for mouth cancer: “If dentists are more vigilant in performing oral cancer screening examinations on all of their patients, the quality of life and survivability from these cancers will be greatly improved, whereby morbidity and mortality will be greatly reduced.”

The study urged use of screening aids to boost detection, and showed that the need for regular screenings had risen, as attempts to educate on prevention had stalled.

Nearly 5,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer each year in the UK, with tobacco and alcohol related to around three quarters of all cases.

An ageing population puts more at risk in the most common over 40s age group, while increasing numbers of young are affected – a quarter of cases displaying no risk factors.

The human papilloma virus, transmitted through oral sex, has also been linked to rising numbers of mouth cancer incidences.

The Foundation’s 2008 mouth cancer survey showed one in five UK patients remain unaware of mouth cancer. Seventy per cent of patients said they had not discussed the disease with their dentist, and were not sure they had ever received oral screening.

Mouth Cancer Action Week 2008 was launched at the Houses of Parliament in November 2008, with a speech by leading expert Professor Saman Warnakulasuriya calling for government support for dentists giving oral screening.

The campaign highlighted a need for the public to self examine, looking out for ulcers that do not heal within three weeks, red and white patches in the mouth, and lumps, swelling or unusual changes in the mouth and neck.

Find more information at www.mouthcancer.org

Facts and Figures

In the UK over 4,750 are diagnosed each year.

Around 1,700 people die of mouth cancer every year.

Mouth cancer is more common in men than women, but the gap is closing

Mouth cancer is more likely to affect people over 40 years of age, though an
increasing number of young people are developing the condition.

Tobacco and alcohol are thought to contribute to 80 per cent of mouth cancer cases.

Smoking is the number one cause for mouth cancer. Cigarette smoke converts saliva into a deadly cell-damaging cocktail.

Switching to low-tar cigarettes will not help, as smokers of ‘lights’ tend to inhale more smoke than smokers of ‘regular’ cigarettes.

Although some people believe that chewing tobacco is safer than smoking, the reality is that it is even more dangerous. Chewing tobacco, paan, areca nut and gutkha are habits favoured by some ethnic groups.

Alcohol aids absorption of smoke into the mouth – people who smoke and drink alcohol to excess are 30 times more likely to develop mouth cancer.

Poor diet is linked to a third of all cancer cases. Evidence shows an increase in fruit and vegetables lowers the risk, as can fish and eggs.It is recommended that people enjoy a healthy, balanced diet, including food from each of the major food groups and including fruit and vegetables of all different colours as each colour contains different vitamins

Research now suggests the human papilloma virus (HPV) – transmitted by oral sex – could soon rival smoking and drinking as a main cause of mouth cancer.

Early detection and treatment considerably increases survival chances, allows for simpler treatment and results in a better quality of life for sufferers

The Charity

The British Dental Health Foundation is the UK’s leading oral health charity, with a 30-year track record of providing public information and influencing government policy. It maintains a free consumer advice service, an impartial and objective product accreditation scheme, publishes and distributes a wide range of literature for the profession and consumers.

National Smile Month runs each May, to promote greater awareness of the benefits of better oral health, with Mouth Cancer Action Week each November.

The Dental Helpline, which offers free impartial dental advice to consumers, can be contacted on 0845 063 1188 between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday or by e- mailing helpline@dentalhealth.org.uk