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Unhealthy lifestyles blamed for sharp rise in mouth cancer cases

Smoking still accounts for the majority of mouth cancers Credit: PA

Rates of mouth cancer have soared in the past 20 years - with smoking, alcohol, a bad diet and sex to blame.

The killer disease is more common in men, but women are also affected and have seen a 71% rise in rates over the last 20 years.

Overall, cases have risen by 68% over the last 20 years, according to new figures from Cancer Research UK.

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.

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.

Bad diet has been linked to oral cancer Credit: PA

Early symptoms of mouth cancer:

  • 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
  • An unexplained lump in your neck

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.

"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."

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.