The new study found that monitoring cancer tumours for the HPV can help health experts predict a patient’s survival chances.
Conducted by Dr Angela Hong from the University of Sydney, the research monitored 198 patients suffering from mouth cancer after they had surgery or radiotherapy.
Following the patients for a period of two years, it was found that those with HPV positive cancer were four times less likely to die than those who were HPV negative.
Another astonishing discovery was that cancer was three times less likely to reoccur at the primary site in patients with HPV positive cancer.
Dr Angela Hong said: “Our study, which focused on a group of patients with advanced oropharyngeal cancer, found that those with cancer caused by HPV had a significantly better chance of survival than cancer which was not caused by HPV. And this beneficial HPV effect was seen regardless of the type of treatment they had.
“HPV status is now the strongest predictor of whether a patient will survive oropharyngeal cancer or whether the disease will return. Various clinical trials are now in development to tailor treatment according to HPV status of tumours.”
Mouth cancer is currently one of the fastest growing cancers in the UK, and is responsible for one death every five hours.
Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, said: “Mouth cancer is a devastating disease, and this study is another step forward in the battle against it. More people in the UK die each year from mouth cancer than from cervical and testicular cancer combined, which is wrong considering this disease can be treated and cured if caught in the early stages. Any research that can help us understand and beat this disease is a step in the right direction.”
The Foundation organises the annual Mouth Cancer Action Month campaign, which runs throughout November. The campaign aims to inform the nation of the main risk factors and early symptoms, while encouraging self–examination and regular visits to a dentist through the tagline ‘If in doubt, get checked out’.
Though tobacco is considered to be the main cause for mouth cancer, experts have suggested that HPV will become the prominent risk factor within the next decade. US studies have linked HPV to more than 20,000 cases in the past five years.
Alcohol is another key risk factor, with those who drink and smoke in excess up to thirty times more likely to develop the condition.
A balanced diet is an important part of the battle against mouth cancer, as a third of cases are linked to an unhealthy diet. Evidence has also shown that an increase in Omega 3, found in fish and eggs, and fibre, found in nuts, seeds, whole–wheat pasta and brown rice, can help lower risks.
A mouth ulcer that has not healed in three weeks, red or white patches and any swelling or unusual lumps in the mouth are all early warning signs of the disease and must be checked by a professional immediately.
For anyone with concerns about their oral health, the National Dental Helpline (0845 063 1188) offers a confidential advice and support service. Staffed by qualified dental experts the helpline received over 20,000 calls last year, including various queries about mouth cancer. Available Monday to Friday, between 9am and 5pm, the helpline takes calls from the public and profession and offers free information about all oral health topics.
For further information please contact the Foundation’s Press Office on 01788 539 792 or email [email protected]
Hong et al. ‘Human Papilloma Virus predicts outcome in oropharyngeal cancer in patients treated primarily with surgery or radiation therapy’, British Journal of Cancer (2010) 00, 1–8.
This is the official UK Mouth Cancer Action Month campaign which is conducted with advice from and supported by the Department of Health and the British Dental Association.
The campaign is also supported by Denplan and a number of other professional and commercial partners
You can find more information on mouth cancer at the website www.mouthcancer.org.
One person dies every five hours in the UK from mouth cancer, making it the UK’s fastest growing cancer.
Mouth cancer is twice more common in men than in women, though an increasing number of women are being diagnosed with the disease. Previously, the disease has been five times more common in men than women.
Age is another factor, with people over the age of 40 more likely to be diagnosed, though more young people are now being affected than previously.
People who smoke and drink to excess have been found to be at a higher risk, and are up to 30 times more likely to develop mouth cancer.
Poor diet is linked to a third of all cancer cases, and experts suggest HPV could overtake tobacco and alcohol as the main risk factor within the coming decade.
The Foundation strongly advises people of all ages to check their mouths and have regular dental appointments.
Initial signs of the disease include a non–healing mouth ulcer, a red or white patch in the mouth, or unusual lumps or swelling in the mouth.
Annual mouth cancer cases have increased by 41 percent in the last decade, and latest figures show that over 5,400 people are diagnosed with mouth cancer in the UK in a year.
Under half of those diagnosed with mouth cancer survive beyond five years of diagnosis.
Mouth cancer is the cause of more deaths than cervical cancer and testicular cancer combined.
The British Dental Health Foundation is the UK’s leading oral health charity, with a 39–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.
The Dental Helpline, which offers free impartial advice to consumers, can be contacted on 0845 063 1188 between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday. Alternatively, they can be contacted by email on [email protected]
A series of ‘Tell Me About…’ leaflets covering topics such as mouth cancer, smoking and diet are also available.
The Foundation’s website can be found at www.dentalhealth.org.
The Foundation also hosts two other websites: one for Mouth Cancer Action Month (www.mouthcancer.org) and other for National Smile Month (www.smilemonth.org).
Please visit the Foundation’s Twitter accounts: dentalhealthorg, mouthcancerorg and smilemonth and add our Facebook fan–page: ‘British Dental Health Foundation’.