Mouth cancer cases increase by 12%, new data shows

mouth cancer

The British Dental Association (BDA) has called for urgent action on mouth cancer, stressing that dental access can be the ‘difference between life and death’.

The association cited new data which shows that there were 9,860 cases of mouth cancer in the UK in 2020/21. This was an increase of 12% from the previous year. Oral cancers also killed more than 3,000 people in 2021, which is 46% higher than the figure from a decade ago. As a result, mouth cancer causes more deaths than road collisions in the UK.

The BDA believes that the government must ‘act meaningfully’ to target the problem by improving dental access. It said: ‘Ongoing access problems will make a difference between life and death for some patients.’

In particular, the importance of early detection was emphasised. Early detection of oral cancer results in a 90% survival rate, compared with 50% for delayed diagnosis.

Access crisis

Toothless in England, a group that campaigns for an NHS dentist for everyone, and the BDA said the rise was linked to cuts to NHS dentistry.

Eddie Crouch, chair of the BDA, said: ‘Every dental check-up doubles as an oral cancer screening. When late detection can radically reduce your chances of survival, the access crisis millions face will inevitably cost lives.

‘This condition causes more deaths than car accidents. With rates surging we need more than radio silence from Westminster.’

The BDA criticised the absence of a ‘promised recovery plan’ from the government, which it ‘expected before summer’. It also questioned the lack of response to the Health and Social Care Committee’s inquiry into NHS dentistry, released in July.

Writing on X, formerly known as Twitter, Toothless in England said: ‘We have repeatedly warned about mouth cancer deaths rising exponentially as access to NHS dentistry is further denied. Over 3,000 people died from the disease in 2021. Routine checkups save lives. We demand an NHS dentist for everyone! #NHSdentistry’.

Mouth cancer among lower risk groups

Another factor discussed by the BDA was the rising number of oral cancer cases causes by human papillomavirus (HPV).

It said: ‘While “high risk” patients can be targeted – older smokers, heavy drinkers – there is a significant growth in cases from human papillomavirus (HPV), who are generally younger, do not usually smoke and drink little or no alcohol.’

One study found that only 23.3% of patients were aware of the relationship between HPV and throat cancer. In addition, only 7.4% were aware that throat cancer is the most common cancer type associated with HPV.

According to the research, healthcare professionals often exclusively discuss HPV in relation to cervical cancer. The study team suggest that HPV vaccination rates could be increased by explaining the link between HPV and throat cancer to both men and women.

The team concluded: ‘Our findings, supported by other research, point to the necessity of interventions that illustrate to adults how HPV vaccines can protect against developing cancer.’

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