Despite the majority of cases being highly preventable, the rate of oral cancer diagnosis in the UK has risen steadily in recent years. Data from Cancer Research UK cites slightly more than 11,000 cases of head and neck cancer reported each year – an increase of 30% over the last two decades. Both men and women have shown increasing rates of oral cancer diagnosis in this time frame, and the number of individuals facing oral cancer by the year 2035 is expected to rise by 33%.
A number of oral cancer patients are part of the elderly population, age 70 and over, but diagnosis rates among younger patients are climbing. When caught early, oral cancer survival rates are relatively high, but only 19-59% of people diagnosed with the disease live ten years or more. With the rising number of adults in the UK with oral cancer continuing to increase over the upcoming years, understanding who is at risk, as well as the steps that can be taken to prevent oral cancer, are of utmost concern among patient advocate groups and dental professionals alike.
Nearly 91% of all oral cancer occurrences are preventable with changes to lifestyle choices made by patients. Smoking, including tobacco-less and pipe smoking, is a leading cause of oral cancer in adults in the UK, followed closely by excessive alcohol intake and poor choices in diet. Recent research has shown that having a healthy lifestyle that excludes these triggers helps reduce the chances of being diagnosed with oral cancer later in life. Similarly, committing to a life of exercise and regular physical activity has been proven to help reduce the potential for oral cancer among some patient populations.
In the last few years, the Human papillomavirus, or HPV, has been linked to oral cancer in some patients as well. Specifically, HPV type 18 has been deemed a probable cause of oral cancer in both men and women, with an estimated 8% of oral cancer in cavities in the mouth within the UK correlated to the disease. Additionally, exposure to ionizing radiation, ultraviolet radiation, previous bouts of cancer, and a family history of oral cancer are risk factors for adult patients.
How to Reduce the Prevalence of Oral Cancer
Although some risks of oral cancer cannot be reduced, there are several things both patients and dental professionals can do to help prevent oral cancer from becoming a fatal health issue. First, patients must take steps to improve their lifestyle if they engage in heavy drinking or smoking on a regular basis. Improving diet through the inclusion of healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and nutrient-rich foods, and increasing physical activity have been shown to lower the chance of experiencing oral cancer among male and female patient populations. Self-examinations are also beneficial in the process, as they point to issues that are worth discussing with a dental professional. By examining the cheeks, teeth, gums, and other areas of the mouth at home, patients can easily see problems like lesions, ulcers, and other sores in the mouth that may be symptoms of oral cancer. The earlier these issues are identified, the earlier treatment can be provided.
In addition to changing lifestyle habits and self-examinations, dentists and other professionals in the field can take steps to reduce the growing number of oral cancer diagnosis throughout the country. A team of medical negligence specialists that works claims involving the misdiagnosis of oral cancer explains the importance of advanced screenings in dental offices. In a recently published guideline by the Dental Defense Union, dentists are given the tools to correctly diagnose oral cancers earlier in patients’ lives, such as being up to date on professional development and continuing education courses, discussing lifestyle choices and medical history fully with patients, and documenting all possible signs and symptoms of oral cancer. In addition, dentists are encouraged to refer patients with early signs of oral cancer or other moderate to severe oral issues to a specialist who can quickly and accurately diagnose and provide treatment options.
As the prevalence of oral cancer continues to rise among adult patients in the UK, both individuals potentially affected and the dental professionals who treat them have a responsibility to work toward reducing the oral cancer issue. Through a combination of self-examinations, open and honest discussions about lifestyle changes, and timely specialist referrals, oral cancer can be stopped from reaching the level of epidemic among all demographics.