03:44pm Friday 21 February 2020

Mouth cancer survival rates concern experts

Professor Saman Warnakulasuriya, Professor of Oral Medicine at King’s College London, expressed his concerns at the launch of November’s Mouth Cancer Action Month held at the House of Commons.

During his speech at the House of Commons, Professor Warnakulasuriya said: “The magnitude of the problem of mouth cancer in the UK is growing. The latest figures show a 41 per cent increase in just ten years.

“While the treatment of many cancers is leading to an improvement in survival rates, the same cannot be said for mouth cancer. The proportion that dies has remained more or less constant.”

Professor Warnakulasuriya suggested that “…late presentation and also a lack of clinical trials introducing a new generation of anti-cancer medicines to combat mouth cancer” were the likely reasons for the disappointing improvement in survival rates.

Professor Warnakulasuriya continued: “However, it is encouraging that significant work is being done help improve the skills and knowledge of dental professionals, including the launch of a new Europe-wide website at www.oralcancerldv.org dedicated to the early detection and prevention of oral cancer.”

Throughout November, leading oral health charity the British Dental Health Foundation, which runs Mouth Cancer Action Month, is hoping to improve ‘late presentation’ of mouth cancer with its campaign message of ‘If in doubt, get checked out.”One in two people who contract mouth cancer die, without early diagnosis. However, early detection of the disease can improve five year survival rates to 90 per cent.

Data from Cancer Research UK show trends of cancer survival. Over the past ten years the mortality rate for all cancers has fallen by nine per cent – around 12 per cent for men and eight per cent for women1. However, over the same period, the survival rate for men suffering from mouth cancers has only improved by 5.5 per cent. In the case of women diagnosed with mouth cancer, mortality has worsened by 6.2 percent. Overall, mouth cancer survival rates have only improved by 2.3 per cent between 1999 and 2008.

Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, said: “Early detection is particularly important to survive mouth cancer and recognising the warning signs is something that everyone should be familiar with. They include: ulcers which do not heal within three weeks; red and white patches in the mouth; and unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth.

“Knowing the risks is also important as they can increase the chances of developing the disease. Smoking, alcohol abuse, poor diet, using smokeless tobacco and the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), transmitted via oral sex, are all risk factors that can be avoided through different lifestyle choices.”


Editor’s notes

1. Source: Cancer Research UK – Trends in Cancer Mortality.

Table: Percentage change in the European age-standardised mortality rates, by sex, major cancers, UK, 1999-2008.

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