Despite the recent case of actor Michael Douglas, who is suffering from advanced throat cancer, the answers from over 1,000 members of the public who were questioned in the survey for Mouth Cancer Action Month supported by Denplan reveal that there is only limited knowledge and understanding of this potentially deadly disease.
One person in 10 claimed not even to have heard of mouth cancer.
Chief Executive of the Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, said: “After recent high profile coverage of the Michael Douglas case it is staggering to see that some people still have no awareness at all of the condition.
Dr Carter added: “It is vital that the public have a greater awareness because survival rates increase massively with early detection from just 50 percent to 90 percent. The public need to be aware of the risk factors and whether they are in a high risk group and how they can self-examine or who they can turn to if they’re concerned.”
The results of the survey reveal that it is the older members of the public who are most aware of mouth cancer, with more than 96 percent of those interviewed saying that they had heard of it.
Dr Carter added: “This sounds good as the majority of cases occur in the over 50s but now more young people are being diagnosed with mouth cancer it is important that everyone is aware of the problem. The survey also shows that women are more aware of the disease than men – yet men are twice as likely as women to suffer with mouth cancer.”
The results of the survey show that over a third of the public questioned dramatically underestimated the prevalence of the disease by answering that mouth cancer was responsible for one death every day in the UK. In fact, mouth cancer causes a death in the UK every five hours and is now responsible for more deaths than cervical and testicular cancer combined.
Dr Carter continued: “Rates of mouth cancer have increased by over 40 percent over the last decade and this year’s figures from Globecan show a worrying 10 percent increase over last year’s figures to very nearly 6,000 new cases a year. Despite this there is not always a great deal of publicity surrounding it, so people just do not realise how common and dangerous it is which is why we run Mouth Cancer Action Month every November in the UK.”
Statistically worldwide, an estimated 405,000 new cases are diagnosed each year and over two-thirds of cases in the UK are detected at a late stage. During the campaign the Foundation is encouraging people to self-examine for mouth cancer. Self-examination is important because there are early warning signs to look out for, such as a mouth ulcer that doesn’t heal for over three weeks, or red and white patches on the gums or tongue or any unusual swelling or lumps in the mouth. The campaign strap line is “If in doubt…get checked out” and the Foundation advises that anyone who thinks they have any of these symptoms to visit their dentist as early detection is vital. The dental team have a vital role to play in carrying out opportunistic screening at every recall visit and using this opportunity to educate their patients about mouth cancer, risk factors and self awareness and examination.
Tobacco remains the main risk factor for the disease and alongside excessive alcohol consumption is responsible for three in four cases. Poor diet is also a risk factor and advice for patients should be to have a balanced, healthy diet including five portions of fruit and vegetables every day.
The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) spread via oral sex is an increasing concern to oral health experts and a recent study in the US connected over 20,000 cancer cases to HPV in the last five years. Experts now suggest it may rival tobacco as the main cause for mouth cancer in the next decade. Younger people and those with multiple sexual partners are most at risk.
Initial signs of the disease include a non-healing mouth ulcer, a red or white patch in the mouth, or unusual lumps or swelling in the mouth.
Annual mouth cancer cases have increased by 41 percent in the last decade, and under half of those diagnosed with mouth cancer survive beyond five years of diagnosis.