Mouth cancer rates have 'DOUBLED in a generation' to a record high

Mouth cancer rates in the UK have ‘DOUBLED in a generation’ to a record high and oral sex is almost as much to blame as smoking and drinking, charity warns

  • Mouth cancer diagnoses have shot up by 135 per cent over the past two decades 
  • Last year seven people died every day, with a total 8,337 diagnosed in the UK
  • HPV, sexually transmitted disease, causes 73 per cent of mouth cancer diagnosis

Mouth cancer rates soared in the UK last year to hit a record high, according to a charity blaming the rise on a virus which can be spread by oral sex.

While rates of most cancer types are falling, disease of the mouth has bucked the trend and has shot up by 135 per cent over the past 20 years.

Last year seven people died every day from the illness, which affected a total 8,337 patients in the UK. 

The worrying findings were laid bare in a report by the Oral Health Foundation charity, which is pleading with people to wise up to the causes of the ‘devastating’ disease – chiefly the sexually transmitted virus HPV, alcohol and smoking.

While rates of most cancer types are falling, disease of the mouth has bucked the trend and has shot up by 135 per cent over the past 20 years (file photo)

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, chief executive of the OHF, 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)…

‘We have 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.’

The report claims human papillomavirus (HPV) – a common group of viruses which are mainly spread through sexual activity – causes 73 per cent of oropharyngeal mouth cancers.


Mouth cancer, also known as oral cancer, is where a tumour develops in the lining of the mouth. 

It may be on the surface of the tongue, the insides of the cheeks, the roof of the mouth (palate), or the lips or gums.

Tumours can also develop in the glands that produce saliva, the tonsils at the back of the mouth, and the part of the throat connecting your mouth to your windpipe (pharynx). However, these are less common. 

Symptoms of mouth cancer include:

  • sore mouth ulcers that don’t heal within several weeks
  • unexplained, persistent lumps in the mouth that don’t go away
  • unexplained, persistent lumps in the neck that don’t go away
  • unexplained looseness of teeth, or sockets that don’t heal after extractions
  • unexplained, persistent numbness or an odd feeling on the lip or tongue
  • sometimes, white or red patches on the lining of the mouth or tongue – these can be early signs of cancer, so they should also be investigated
  • changes in speech, such as a lisp

See your GP or dentist if these symptoms don’t heal within three weeks, particularly if you drink or smoke heavily.

Source: NHS

Meanwhile alcohol causes around a third of all mouth cancers, with those who drink more than 10 units each week increasing their risk of diagnosis by 81 per cent.

Smoking directly causes 17 per cent of oral cavity cancers and smokers increase their chance of diagnosis by a staggering 91 per cent. 

Old age is also highlighted as a factor, as are lesser causes such as X-rays and gamma radiation, asbestos, salted fish, formaldehyde, wood dust, over exposure to sunlight, environmental smoke.

Depending on where the cancer strikes, the one-year survival rate for mouth cancer is between 60 per cent and 83 per cent. This drops to between 19 per cent and 58 per cent after 10 years.

The overall death rate has also increased by 22 per cent over the past five years. 

Sufferers of mouth cancer are often hamstrung in completing the most basic of tasks.

Stuart Caplan, from Marble Arch, London, lost two-thirds of his tongue to the disease.

The father-of-one said: ‘One thing that has been really affected by my cancer is eating. 

‘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 for meal is now a much more complicated than it was before mouth cancer.’ 

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