CASES of mouth cancer in the UK have reached a record high – with experts blaming oral sex and booze.

It's the tenth year in a row cases have risen at an alarming rate, with diagnoses doubling in the last generation.

Uphill battle

The Oral Health Foundation warned we are "fighting an uphill battle", adding more must be done to raise awareness of the disease.

He said alcohol and smoking are risk factors, but warned the sexually transmitted HPV virus is fast becoming a common cause.

Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the charity, said: "While most cancers are on the decrease, cases of mouth cancer continue to rise at an alarming rate.

"Traditional causes like smoking and drinking alcohol to excess are quickly being caught by emerging risk factors like the human papillomavirus (HPV).

"The stigma around mouth cancer has changed dramatically.

"It's now a cancer that really can affect anybody.

"We've seen first-hand the devastating affect mouth cancer can have on a person's life.

"It changes how somebody speaks, it makes eating and drinking more difficult, and often changes a person's physical appearance."

Seven lives lost every day

Research by the OHF found 8,337 people were diagnosed with mouth cancer in the UK last year.

That's increased by nearly two-thirds since 2007.

The research also found that 2,701 people lost their life to mouth cancer last year – that’s seven people every day.

Smoking and drinking alcohol to excess are quickly being caught by emerging risk factors like the human papillomavirus (HPV). It's now a cancer that really can affect anybody

The charity warned survival rates in the UK have barely improved in the last 20 years.

It marks the start of Mouth Cancer Action month, this November.

Dr Carter said the charity is urging everyone to become more 'mouth aware' – by learning the signs and symptoms of mouth cancer.

"Most importantly, if you notice anything unusual, please don't delay and seek help from a doctor or dentist," he said.

Signs to watch out for

Mouth cancer can develop in most parts of the mouth, from the tongue to lips, gums and throat. Often a mouth ulcer is the first sign of the disease.

Common symptoms, according to the NHS, include:

  • sore mouth ulcers that don't heal within a few weeks
  • unexplained, persistent lumps that don't go away
  • unexplained, persistent lumps in the lymph glands in the neck that don't go away

Other symptoms include:

  • pain or difficulty swallowing
  • changes in your voice or problems with speech
  • unintentional weight loss
  • bleeding or numbness in the mouth
  • one or more teeth that becomes loose for no obvious reason, or a tooth socket that doesn't heal after a tooth is removed
  • difficulty moving your jaw
  • red or white patches on the lining of your mouth – these are common and rarely a sign of cancer, but get them checked

'I lost most of my tongue to the disease'

Stuart Caplan lost two-thirds of his tongue to the disease.

The dad-of-one said his everyday life has changed dramatically since being diagnosed with mouth cancer.

"One thing that has been really affected by my cancer is eating," he said.

"The chemotherapy and radiotherapy took a big toll on my mouth and with two-thirds less of my tongue, eating and swallowing is really difficult.

"When we're out for a meal, my wife Susan will often spot me having trouble swallowing to the point of choking.

"She will have to pat my back to help digest my food else I'll suffocate.

"Something as simple as going out or a meal is now much more complicated than it was before mouth cancer."

Stuart's case is one the Oral Health Foundation say is relatively common with most mouth cancers starting on the tongue.

Third of cases diagnosed in tongue

One in three cases are diagnosed in the tongue, while one in four are caught in the tonsils.

The palate, floor of the mouth, lips and gums are the other common places where mouth cancer is likely to be picked up.

Dr Catherine Rultand, head dental officer at Denplan, said she hopes the findings will act as a wake-up call to the public.

"This report highlights that, despite the many efforts of health professionals and campaigners, there is still much work to be done in tackling mouth cancer," she said.

"Not only are more people being diagnosed but more lives are also being lost too."

"The more we can equip people with understanding the risks of mouth cancer and make lifestyle changes, as well as recognising the signs and symptoms of the disease and seek professional help at the earliest stage, the more lives we can save."

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