16/11/2005

Alcohol contributing to mouth cancer rise, report claims

Alcohol is contributing to a rise in mouth cancer cases in the UK, but few people are aware that it is a risk factor for the disease, a survey has warned.

Cancer Research UK said that cases of mouth cancer have risen by a quarter over the past ten years – from 3,411 in 1992 to 4,285 in 2001.

In 2003, mouth cancer killed 1,592 people, more than those killed by cervical cancer and testicular cancer combined.

However, while smoking rates have declined in recent years, alcohol consumption has increased.

The major risk factors for mouth cancer are smoking or chewing tobacco and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. However, Cancer Research UK said that while three quarters of people surveyed identified smoking as a risk factor, only one fifth mentioned alcohol.

Above four units of alcohol per day, mouth cancer risk increases linearly with the amount of alcohol consumed. However, the combined effect of tobacco and alcohol on mouth cancer risk is much greater than that of either factor on its own. Cancer Research UK said that people who drink heavily and smoke are 38 times more likely to develop the disease.

Cancer Research UK's Chief Executive, Professor Alex Markham, said: "It's very worrying that people aren't aware that alcohol is a major cause of mouth cancer.

"Alcohol consumption in Britain is rising rapidly. The recent rise in mouth cancer cases appears to be one of the unfortunate outcomes of excessive drinking in this country.

Cancer Research UK has launched a three-year campaign – ‘Open Up to Mouth Cancer’ – to raise awareness of the disease.

Sara Hiom, Head of Health Information at Cancer Research UK, said: “Mouth cancer is on the increase. The good news is that the disease is largely preventable. At least three quarters of mouth cancers could be prevented by stopping smoking and reducing alcohol intake.

"Our new campaign aims to increase awareness of the signs and symptoms of mouth cancer. Evidence shows that early detection of mouth cancer can significantly improve the chances of successful treatment – raising five-year survival rates from around 50 to 90 per cent."

The most common signs of mouth cancer are sores, ulcers, red or white patches and unexplained pain in the mouth or ear. However, less common signs include a lump in the neck, a persistent sore throat or difficulty swallowing.

Ms Hiom said:” If any of these signs persists for more than three weeks they need to be checked out by a doctor or dentist."

The charity’s campaign is being funded by the Department of Health. Public Health Minister Caroline Flint said:” More and more people are dying from mouth cancer because they seek help too late for it to be treated successfully. I hope the campaign will raise awareness and save lives by helping people to recognise the symptoms, seek an early diagnosis and obtain prompt treatment."

(KMcA/SP)

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