Rates of mouth cancer have risen by 68% over the last 20 years, with unhealthy lifestyles to blame, according to new figures.
The data, from Cancer Research UK, shows mouth cancer is on the rise for men and women of all ages. From 1993 to 1995, there were eight cases of mouth cancer per 100,000 people, rising to 13 cases per 100,000 people between 2012 and 2014.
For men under 50, the rate has jumped by 67%. Twenty years ago there were around 340 cases per year in this age group, rising to around 640 now.
For men aged 50 and over, rates have increased by 59%. There were around 2,100 cases a year – now there are 4,400.
While mouth cancer is more common in men, women are also affected and have seen a 71% rise in rates over the last 20 years.
Cancer Research UK issued a warning over the figures, saying nine out of 10 cases are linked to unhealthy lifestyles.
Smokers have a particularly high risk, while drinking alcohol, having a diet low in fruit and veg, and infection with the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) also play a part.
Mouth cancer – also known as oral cancer – is an umbrella term which includes cancer of the lips, tongue, mouth (gums and palate), tonsils and the middle part of the throat.
Jessica Kirby, Cancer Research UK’s senior health information manager, said: “It’s worrying that oral cancer has become more common. It’s important to get to know your body and what’s normal for you, to help spot the disease as early as possible.
“An ulcer or sore in your mouth or tongue that won’t go away, a lump on your lip or in your mouth, a red or red and white patch in your mouth or an unexplained lump in your neck are all things to look out for. Speak to your GP or dentist about any changes that are unusual or don’t go away.
“Healthy lifestyles can help reduce the risk of developing the disease in the first place. Not smoking, drinking less alcohol and eating plenty of fruit and vegetables can all help to cut our risk of mouth cancer.
“HPV vaccination could help protect against oral HPV infections, and it can prevent a range of cancers associated with the HPV virus, so it’s a good idea to get the vaccine if you are offered it.”
Cancer Research UK said that nine out of 10 mouth cancer cases are caused by lifestyle factors.
Of these, 65% are linked to smoking, with 30% linked to drinking alcohol and another 13% linked to infections including HPV. Some cases are linked to more than one factor.
Although smoking rates have fallen recently, they were high in the 50s and 60s, which is contributing to the increase in oral cancer rates seen now.
Drinking rates have also been historically high, fuelling the rise, Cancer Research UK said.