Oral Cancer Rates Skyrocket Over Last Two Decades

Mouth cancer rates show significant increase among males and females of all ages.

Oral cancer rates have spiked over the last 20 years, increasing by 68% in the UK, according to a new Cancer Research UK analysis.

Mouth cancer rates grew in both males and females of all ages. Over the last 2 decades, it has climbed from 8 to 13 cases per 100,000 individuals, according to the study.

During this time period, cancer rates for men under 50-years-old increased by 67%, moving from 340 cases to around 640 cases per year. Rates in men age 50 and older increased by 57%, increasing from approximately 2100 case to approximately 4400 cases per year.

Although oral cancer is much more common in men, there were similar increases observed in women.

Oral cancer rates rose by 71% in the last 2 decades in women under 50-years-old. Annual cases climbed from approximately 160 to approximately 300, according to the study. Rates in women over 50-years-old increased by 71%, with annual cases growing from around 1100 to around 2200.

Oral cancers include cancer of the lips, mouth (gums and palate), tongue, tonsils, and the oropharynx. Approximately 9 in 10 cases are linked to lifestyle and other risk factors, with smoking being the biggest avoidable risk factor that is linked to an estimated 65% of cases. Additional risk factors include diets low in fruit and vegetables, alcohol, and the human papilloma virus (HPV).

“It’s worrying that oral cancer has become more common,” said Jessica Kirby, senior health information manager, Cancer Research UK. “It’s important to get to know your body and what’s normal for you, to help spot the disease as early as possible. An ulcer or sore in your mouth or tongue that won’t go away, a lump on your lip or in your mouth, a red or read and white patch in your mouth or an unexplained lump in your neck are all things to look out for. Speak to your GP [general practitioner] or dentist about any changes that are unusual or don’t go away.”

Kirby added that many of the risk factors for oral cancer are modifiable behaviors.

“Healthy lifestyles can help reduce the risk of developing the disease in the first place. Not smoking, drinking less alcohol and eating plenty of fruit and vegetables can all help to cut our risk of mouth cancer,” she said. “HPV vaccination could help protect against oral HPV infections, and it can prevent a range of cancers associated with the HPV virus, so it’s a good idea to get the vaccine if you are offered it.”

Since smoking is one the biggest preventable causes of oral cancer, Cancer Research UK is calling on the public and local councilors to help protect key services that target smoking.