ORAL CANCER is now the tenth most common cancer in men according to new figures* released by Cancer Research UK today (Tuesday).

This latest data shows around 7,300 people were diagnosed with oral cancer in the UK in 2012** and twice as many men than women diagnosed with the disease –around 4,900 males and 2,400 females.

It is the fifteenth most common cancer in women.

Over the last decade, cases of oral cancer have risen from around 4,500 back in 2002. The incidence rate of the disease has increased by a third over ten years, rising from 9 per 100,000 people in 2002 to 12 per 100,000 in 2012.

Because of this sharp rise in oral cancer cases, Cancer Research UK has partnered with the British Dental Association and the British Dental Health Foundation to raise awareness of oral cancer during Mouth Cancer Action Month. They are launching a new oral cancer toolkit*** for dental professionals and GPs to help try and spot the disease earlier.

The free toolkit for health professional features images of signs and symptoms and outlines how GPs and dentists should refer patients for further tests. Health professionals also accrue credit for their continued professional development by completing the toolkit.

There are around 2,300 people who die from oral cancer in the UK every year, around 1,500 men and around 770 women.

Oral cancers include cancer of the lips, tongue, mouth (gums and palate), tonsils and the middle part of the throat (oropharynx).

Around nine out of 10 oral cancer cases in the UK are linked to major lifestyle and other risk factors. For example, an estimated 65 per cent of oral cancers in the UK are linked to tobacco smoking. The human papilloma virus (HPV), drinking alcohol and having a diet low in fruit and vegetables have also been linked to oral cancer.

Higher smoking rates in men are largely responsible for the greater number of cases in men and an estimated 70 per cent of oral and pharyngeal cancers in males in the UK are linked to tobacco smoking.

Dr Richard Roope, Cancer Research UK’s lead GP, said: “It’s a real concern that oral cancer cases continue to climb and has now broken into the top ten most common cancers in men, especially as the majority of cases are preventable. The combination of tobacco, drinking alcohol and HPV provides a toxic cocktail that has led to this rising tide of cancers, so it’s vital that people are aware of how to reduce their risk. If oral cancer is found at a late stage treatment options are more likely to be limited with long-lasting side effects and the chances of survival are poor. It’s because of this that we’re working to raise awareness of the risk factors of the disease as well as helping doctors and GPs spot the signs and symptoms and have the knowledge they need to act.”

Professor Richard Shaw, a head and neck surgeon based at the University of Liverpool involved in developing the GP and dentist toolkit, said: “We know that the vast majority of oral cancer cases could be prevented, so it’s important that people know how to reduce the risk of the disease through lifestyle factors. Alongside this, it’s vital that GPs and dentists can spot signs and symptoms of the disease to help catch it early and that they feel confident in knowing the next steps they should take in referring patients for further tests. Having seen the devastating impact that oral cancers can have, I hope this toolkit will help more cancers being detected at an earlier stage, when treatment is more likely to be successful. I can only see a limited number of patients every week, but this toolkit means more people will have the knowledge to spot the disease early.”

Professor Damien Walmsley, chief scientific advisor to the British Dental Association, said: “If oral cancer is spotted early survival rates can reach 90 per cent. Delay is costing lives, so it’s vital that front line health professionals have the tools and the information to reduce the risk of the disease and get patients diagnosed as quickly as possible. We are proud to team up with Cancer Research UK, and we urge all those who work in the oral health field to make use of this toolkit.”

Access the dental professionals toolkit here or the GPs toolkit here.