Education linked to mouth cancer risk

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New research has revealed that your social background could heighten their risk of mouth cancer. Dr David Conway’s recent study, ‘Socioeconomic Risk Factors Associated with Upper Aerodigestive Tract Cancer’, measured socio-economic groups by education, occupation and income, and found that those with lower levels of formal education, lower incomes and unemployment history were more at risk.

Dr Conway said: “A low occupational social class such as manual workers had 50 percent increased risk in relation to non-manual workers. Unemployment experience confirmed a 60 percent increased risk, while lower education attainment showed a twofold risk.”

However, Dr Conway emphasised that when these figures were adjusted to consider smoking, alcohol and poor diet, all increases were diminished except for education.

“Education was the strongest socio-economic factor, showing a 30 percent increased risk, independent of lifestyle factors.”

This increase can be explained as low education can influence positions within society and social networks, which in turn can impact on access to health care and determine decision making behaviours.

Dr Conway said: “We need to look at the bigger picture. Public health and prevention programs need to take into account socio-economic circumstances. Health services need to further shift from treatment to prevention. Understanding and tackling social inequalities are key.”

Dr Conway was speaking as part of Mouth Cancer Action Month in the UK, which has been organised to raise awareness of the condition. Currently, one person dies every five hours from mouth cancer in the UK.

Tobacco remains the main risk factor, but those who smoke and drink to excess are up to 30 times more likely to be diagnosed. Other key risk factors include an unhealthy diet and the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Around a third of cases thought to be linked to an unhealthy diet. HPV is transmitted via oral sex, and experts now suggest it may soon rival tobacco and alcohol as the key risk factor. People with multiple sexual partners are most at risk.

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