Intended for healthcare professionals


Oral cancer rates rise by two thirds

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: (Published 25 November 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i6369
  1. Anne Gulland
  1. London

GPs are being urged to be aware of the signs of oral cancer, as new figures from Cancer Research UK show that rates of the disease have increased by 68% in the past 20 years.1

The figures show that the rate of oral cancer in 1992-95 was eight cases per 100 000 people, but that figure has increased to 13 per 100 000 people in 2012-14.

Men aged over 50 are the most likely people have oral cancer: rates have increased from 26 cases per 100 000 men in 1993-95 to 41 cases in 2012-14. In women aged over 50, rates increased from 11 to 18 cases per 100 000 women over the same period.

Rates have also increased in younger people. In men aged 0-49, rates have risen from two cases per 100 000 men to three in the same period. And rates in women aged 0-49 increased from one to two cases per 100 000.

Deaths from oral cancer have remained relatively stable over the 40 years, at about four cases per 100 000 people per year.

Cancer Research UK has launched a toolkit to help GPs, dentists, nurses, and hygienists spot oral cancer, which includes cancer of the lips, tongue, mouth, tonsils, and oropharynx.2

The toolkit includes information on symptoms, how to respond, an image library, a referral guide, and examination videos. It also includes a list of risk factors, such as smoking—the biggest avoidable risk factor. Other risk factors include alcohol, diets low in fruit and vegetables, and infection with the human papillomavirus.

Jessica Kirby, Cancer Research UK’s senior health information manager, said it was worrying that oral cancer had become more common. She urged patients to get to know their 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 red and white patch in your mouth, or an unexplained lump in your neck are all things to look out for.”


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