Mouth cancer rates soar over two decades

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Rates of mouth (oral) cancer have jumped by 68% in the UK over the last 20 years, according to a new analysis from Cancer Research UK.

Released as part of the awareness-raising activities of Mouth Cancer Action Month, the figures reveal that mouth cancer is on the rise for men and women, young and old, climbing from eight to 13 cases per 100,000 people over the last two decades.


  • For men under 50, the rate has jumped by 67% in the last 20 years, up from around 340 cases to around 640 cases each year.
  • For men aged 50 and over, rates have increased by 59%, climbing from around 2100 cases to around 4400 cases each year.
  • In women under 50, oral cancer rates have risen by 71% in the last 20 years, with annual cases climbing from around 160 to around 300.
  • Rates for women over 50 have gone up by 71%, with cases increasing from around 1100 to around 2200.
  • Oral cancer is more common in men, but there have been similar increases seen in women.


Oral cancers include cancer of the lips, tongue, mouth (gums and palate), tonsils and the middle part of the throat (oropharynx).

Around nine in 10 cases of oral cancer are linked to lifestyle and other risk factors. Smoking is the biggest avoidable risk factor, linked to an estimated 65%t of cases, while other risk factors include alcohol, diets low in fruit and vegetables, and infections with the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

Together with the British Dental Association, Cancer Research UK has developed an oral cancer toolkit to help GPs, dentists, nurses and hygienists to spot the disease and refer suspected cases sooner.

Jessica Kirby, Cancer Research UK’s senior health information manager, said: “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.”