Mouth cancer cases have reached record levels in the UK, and experts are attributing the rise to an increase in the human papillomavirus virus.
6,200 people were diagnosed with oral cancer in 2011, a 41 per cent rise on the 4,400 total cases diagnosed a decade ago. Two thirds of the 6,200 cases were men.
Oral cancer cases have increased by ober 40 per cent
Most mouth and throat cancers are still associated with tobacco use and or alcohol. However, the human papillomavirus (HPV), in particular HPV 16, seems to play a role in the development of a significant number of oral cancers.
Whilst up to 8 in 10 Brits will contract HPV at some point in their lives, the virus is normally harmless. However, several studies have shown a relationship between oral sex and HPV positive throat cancers, particularly in those individuals who perform oral sex on men.
The new figures show that there have been sharp rises in two forms of oral cancer. Cancers at the base of the tongue have increased by 90 per cent from 284 to 595. Cancers at the tonsils have increased from 573 to 1,052, a 70 per cent increase. These are two areas where cancers are more commonly HPV related.
Cancer Research UK has attributed the increase of oral cancer to rising rates of HPV, although it seems possible that smoking and alcohol use may interact with HPV infection to increase a person's risk of cancer.
Experts say warning signs of oral cancer include red or white patches in the mouth that do not heal.
Richard Shaw, a Cancer Research UK expert in head and neck cancers based at the Liverpool Cancer Research UK Centre, said: 'We have seen a rapid increase in the number of HPV16-positive cases of oral cancer.
'We have also noticed that patients with HPV-related oral cancers tend to be younger, are less likely to be smokers and have better outcomes from treatment than those whose tumours show no evidence of HPV.’
Sara Hiom, director of information at Cancer Research UK, said: ‘Dentists have an important role to play in spotting oral cancer early and encouraging their patients to take care of their mouths. So make sure you attend regular dental check-ups.'
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