New study links diabetes to mouth cancer

People with diabetes are at ‘significantly’ greater risk of developing head and neck cancer, according to new research.

The study, published online and conducted by Kuo-Shu Tseng and colleagues, discovered that groups of patients with diabetes are almost 50% more likely to develop the disease compared to those without diabetes.

From those cancers identified, it was cancer of the mouth and throat that were the most common areas diagnosed, with diabetics aged 40-65 discovered to be the most at risk.

In the UK, 3.2 million people have diabetes. A further 630,000 people are predicted to have Type 2 diabetes that has not yet been diagnosed. Left untreated, diabetes can cause many health problems, including damaged blood vessels, nerves and organs.

Latest statistics reveal mouth cancer cases have ballooned to more than 6,700 while deaths exceeded 2,000 for the first time. It is one of the few types of cancer predicted to increase within the next decade.

More people die from mouth cancer than from cervical and testicular cancer combined. Without early detection, the five-year survival rate for mouth cancer is only 50%. If it is caught early, survival rates over five years can dramatically improve to up to 90% as well as the quality of life for survivors being significantly increased.

It is for this reason that oral health charity the British Dental Health Foundation campaigns to raise awareness of mouth cancer. Chief executive Dr Nigel Carter OBE thinks the research could help to identify at-risk groups.

Dr Carter said: ‘This could be a very significant piece of research, and one that could help to save many lives. Diabetes has previously been linked to poor oral health, yet this is the first time it has been linked to mouth cancer.

‘This makes regular dental visits an absolute must. If your dentists know that you are diabetic, they will check your mouth accordingly, especially if it could help to catch mouth cancer.

‘It is important, not just for diabetics but for everyone, to be aware of what the signs and symptoms of the disease are. Ulcers that do not heal within three weeks, red and white patches in the mouth and unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth could be early warning signs of mouth cancer. If you experience any of these visit your dentist immediately.

‘Tobacco use, drinking alcohol to excess, poor diet and the human papillomavirus (HPV), often transmitted via oral sex, are all lifestyle choices that will increase the risk of developing the disease. If diabetes is another potential risk factor, amending your lifestyle to make sure you take yourself out of harm’s way is more important than ever to be mouth aware.

‘Our message to everyone is clear – if in doubt, get checked out.’

The study can be found online here.

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