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Oral Cancer up 25% in UK; Experts Blame Heavier Drinking

posted 12:14 AM EST, Tue August 11, 2009
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Oral Cancer up 25% in UK; Experts Blame Heavier Drinking © Photo Credit: Buketgirl

Heavier drinking is causing a dramatic increase in oral cancers in those over 40.

In Britain, incidence rates of oral cancers, such as those of the throat, lip, tongue and mouth, have increased by more than 25% amongst people in their 40s in only the last decade, a result, say experts, of heavier alcohol consumption.

Two of the primary causes of oral cancers are alcohol consumption and smoking. Smoking, the larger risk factor, typically causes oral cancers only after about 30 years of use, leading experts to speculate that sharply increasing drinking rates across the country over the last decades are responsible for the upsurge in cancers amongst the young-middle aged.

Hazel Nunn, a spokeswoman for Cancer Research UK said, “Three-quarters of cases of oral cancer are caused by either smoking or drinking alcohol…Alcohol consumption has doubled since the 1950s and the trend we are now seeing is likely to be linked to Britain's continually rising drinking levels." Nunn also lists a reduction in the consumption of fruits and vegetables and HPV viruses, as other possible causes for the increasing cancer rates.

Annually, roughly 5000 people in the UK are diagnosed with oral cancers and 1800 are killed.

Experts, such as president of the Royal College of Physicians, Ian Gilmore, have called for warning labels on alcohol, similar to those found on packages of cigarettes, said Gilmore, "These figures demonstrate once again that people are being struck down at ever younger ages with alcohol-related illnesses. There is an urgent need to rethink how we communicate the risks of misuse.”

Signs of oral cancers include pain in the ear or mouth and ulcers, sores or white or red rashes in the mouth. Visiting the dentist regularly is a good way to ensure an early diagnosis and effective treatment, if necessary.

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