87,000 nurses were followed for 30 years from 1976 by researchers from the Columbia University Medical Centre and Harvard School of Public Health. Women who drank a high volume of alcohol and had low folic acid intake were three times more likely to develop mouth cancer than those who drank high volumes of alcohol but had high volumes of folic acid in their diet.
Alcohol is one of the major risk factors for mouth cancer and those who drink to excess are four times more likely to be diagnosed. This is the first time that folic acid intake has been shown to affect the risk of the disease. Alcohol leads to a reduction in folic acid metabolism by creating acetaldehyde which leads to a reduction of folic acid in the body.
Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, said: “Rates of mouth cancer in women have been increasing for many years as a result of changed social habits with more women smoking and drinking. This new research could offer a method to reduce this by looking at the folic acid intake and increasing fruit and vegetables containing folic acid in the diet.
“In the past studies have tended to focus on males, as they are twice as likely to suffer from the disease. Whilst this study focuses on women we know that men also benefit from the protective value of increased fruit and vegetables”.
Folic acid or vitamin B9 is essential to an individual’s health by helping to make and maintain new cells. Pregnant women are advised to supplement their intake of folic acid, to ensure a healthy development of the baby.
Folic acid is found in vegetables such as spinach, asparagus, beans, peas and lentils and is added to bread. Fruit juices, broccoli and brussel sprouts contain smaller amounts.
An unhealthy diet has been linked with around a third of mouth cancer cases. Recent research has also shown that an increase in food such as eggs and fish that contain Omega 3, and nuts, seeds and brown rice, which are high in fibre, can help decrease the risks.
Mouth cancer survival is poor with only around half of cases surviving for 5 years and this is due to late presentation. The Mouth Cancer Action Month Campaign run by the Foundation aims to increase awareness and reverse this trend with the theme ‘If in doubt get checked out’.
Early warning signs to look out for include a mouth ulcer that has not healed within three weeks, red or white patches in the mouth and any unusual swelling or lumps in the mouth. These are all signs that you should get your dentist or doctor to check you out as soon as possible.
For further information please contact the Foundation’s Press Office on 01788 539 792 or email [email protected]
Zavras et al. ‘Alcohol–Folate Interactions in the Risk of Oral Cancer in Women: A Prospective Cohort Study’, published in the October issue of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention.
Mouth cancer is one of the fastest growing cancers in the UK, and is responsible for one death every five hours.
The Foundation organises Mouth Cancer Action Month, an annual campaign that runs throughout November. With the tagline ‘If in doubt, get checked out’, the campaign encourages members of the public with an ulcer that does not heal in 3 weeks, any red or white patch or lump in the head and neck region to visit their dentist or doctor for a check.
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.
Mouth cancer is the cause of more deaths than cervical cancer and testicular cancer combined.
Tobacco is the main risk factor. Tobacco, whether smoked or chewed, transforms saliva in the mouth into a deadly cocktail, damaging cells and turning them cancerous. Individuals who both smoke and drink alcohol in excess are up to 30 times more likely to be diagnosed with mouth cancer.
HPV, the Human Papilloma Virus also responsible for cervical cancer has also been identified as a risk factor. Experts suggest that within the next 10 years, HPV could rival tobacco as the leading cause of mouth cancer. People with multiple sexual partners are most at risk from HPV.
The Mouth Cancer Action Month campaign is conducted with advice from and supported by the Department of Health and the British Dental Association.
The campaign is also supported by Denplan.
You can find more information on mouth cancer at the website www.mouthcancer.org.
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]
The Foundation’s website can be found at www.dentalhealth.org.
Please visit the Foundation’s Twitter accounts: dentalhealthorg, mouthcancerorg and smilemonth and add our Facebook fan�”page: ‘British Dental Health Foundation’.