Oral cancer deaths surge
According to figures obtained by the Oral Health Foundation there has been a 46 per cent rise in oral cancer deaths from figures recorded a decade previously
Oral cancer claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people in 2021, according to figures obtained by the Oral Health Foundation (OHF) – a 46 per cent rise from the 2,075 recorded a decade previously.
The OHF used a Freedom of Information request to elicit data from, amongst others, the Office for National Statistics, Public Health Scotland , Public Health Wales and the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry.
Professor Grant McIntyre, Dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, said: “This is very worrying news. It highlights the profound impact when people struggle to access periodic NHS dental check-ups, potentially leading to delayed diagnoses of head and neck cancer.
“Reporting [by the BBC] shows that many patients require extensive surgery that may have been preventable, and at times, tragically, untimely loss of life for others.
“Lack of access to routine dental check-ups is a significant barrier to identifying a range of diseases and we would therefore call on government to urgently ensure funding is in place to make NHS dentistry accessible to all.
“We would also like to remind the public to prioritise periodic check-ups whenever possible, and to book an appointment more urgently if they have any concerns. Additionally, it is important to note that advice and treatment for some conditions is also available at local pharmacies.”
In 2020-21, 9,860 people were diagnosed with the disease in 2020-21 – a rise of 12 per cent over the previous year, according to the OHF. Early detection enjoys a 90 per cent survival rate but this drops to 50 per cent when diagnosis is made as the disease has advanced.
Nigel Carter, Chief Executive of the OHF, said dental check-ups were “a key place for identifying the early stage of mouth cancer. With access to NHS dentistry in tatters, we fear that many people with mouth cancer will not receive a timely diagnosis.”
Carter’s words were echoed by the British Dental Association’s Chair Eddie Crouch who said that “every dental check-up doubles as an oral-cancer screening” adding that the crisis millions of people face accessing dentists “will inevitably cost lives”.
Key findings of the OHF report:
- New cases of mouth cancer in the UK reached 8,846 last year.
- This has increased by 34 per cent in the last decade and by 103 per cent compared with 20 years’ ago.
- 58 per cent of mouth cancers appear on the tongue and tonsils.
- Last year, 3,034 people in the UK lost their life to mouth cancer.
- The ten-year survival rate is between 18 per cent and 57 per cent, depending on where the cancer strikes and how early it is diagnosed.
- Almost nine-in-ten (88 per cent) UK adults have now heard of mouth cancer. However, awareness on the signs, symptoms and risk factors is poor.
- Awareness of the major signs and symptoms for mouth cancer are as low as 17 per cent.
- Awareness on the major risk factors of mouth cancer is as low as 9 per cent.
- Improving access to NHS dentistry, tackling late diagnosis, and protecting public health policies are some of the key challenges in confronting mouth cancer.
- The report calls for for more funding for NHS dentistry, investment in education and the need to boost uptake of the HPV vaccination.