Men twice as likely to develop oral cancer

Men are more than twice as likely to develop oral cancer* as women, according to new figures released by Cancer Research UK today (Wednesday).

The latest data shows that around 5,300 men are diagnosed with oral cancer every year in the UK compared to around 2,500 women.**

The data also reveals that oral cancer is more often diagnosed in men at a younger age compared with other cancers. Oral cancer is the 11th most common male cancer overall, but among men aged 45 – 59 it is the fourth most common.***

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

To help tackle the rise in oral cancer, Cancer Research UK offers a free online educational resource for dental professionals and GPs to help them to spot the disease earlier, supported by the British Dental Association and accredited by the Royal College of General Practitioners.****

The Oral Cancer Recognition Toolkit includes information on how to identify signs and symptoms, referral pathways and how to prevent the disease.

The resource has already been accessed by over 25,000 dental professionals and GPs across the UK and was shortlisted as a finalist at the Pharmaceutical Market Excellence Awards for the Excellence in Healthcare Professional Education and Support category.*****

Around nine out of 10 oral cancer cases in the UK are linked to preventable causes like smoking tobacco, alcohol and contracting human papillomavirus (HPV). The difference between cases in men and women may be due to men indulging more heavily in some of these activities. For example, there are higher smoking rates in men and an estimated 70 per cent of male oral and pharyngeal cancers in the UK are linked to tobacco smoking.******

Cases of oral cancer have been going up in both men and women over the last decade, with rates rising from 10 cases per 100,000 people a year in the mid-2000s, to 13 cases per 100,000 today.*******

Dr Richard Roope, Cancer Research UK’s lead GP, said: “It’s a real concern that so many men are getting oral cancer and that it’s been on the rise in both men and women. But the vast majority of oral cancer cases are preventable, so the good news is that people can cut their risk by quitting smoking and cutting down on alcohol. It’s also vital that everyone knows what their mouth, tongue and gums usually feel like so they can spot anything out of the ordinary. Early diagnosis is absolutely key for the best results which is why we’re set on helping dentists and GPs catch oral cancer sooner.”

Nick Stolls, Harleston-based dentist from the British Dental Association, said: “Having referred patients with suspected oral cancers, I know that when it’s diagnosed at an earlier stage the chances are better for successful treatment. So it’s crucial that dentists and GPs know the signs to look out for and that patients bring anything suspicious to their attention as soon as possible. This is why it’s also important for patients to visit their dentist for regular check-ups so that anything out of the ordinary can be picked up and referred quickly.”

Access the dental professional’s toolkit here or the GPs’ toolkit here.


For media enquiries contact Ione Bingley in the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8979 or, out of hours, on 07050 264 059.

Notes to editor:

*Oral cancer is defined as ICD-10 C00-C06, C09-C10 and C12-C14 (which include the lip, tongue, mouth, oropharynx, piriform sinus, hypopharynx and other and ill-defined sites of the lip, oral cavity and pharynx)

** Based on average annual number of new cases of oral cancer diagnosed in the UK between 2013-2015.

The latest UK wide incidence data for oral cancer is from 2015. The process of registering a cancer is complex and there are a number of processes in place to ensure the data is of a high-quality.

Cancer Research UK compiles UK wide incidence data produced by the regional cancer registries in England, and the three national registries in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland for our UK statistics but it means we have to wait until all of the data has been published by each country before we can compile and publish it.

The process to compile and analyse the data means there is usually a delay of around 18 months before the data is complete.

For more information about oral cancer visit

***Ranking compares number of new cases of oral cancer diagnosed 2013-2015 in the UK with level 3 groups. This does not include ‘head and neck’ group as oral cancer is a large subset of this. Nor does it include NMSC. Level 3 does include CUP and the level 3 group: brain, other parts of the central nervous system and intracranial tumours includes ICD-10 C70-C72, C75.1-C75.3, D32-D33, D35.2-D35.4, D42-D43, and D44.3-D44.5.

**** Oral Cancer Recognition Toolkit

Supported by the British Dental Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners, Cancer Research UK’s online toolkit aims to increase dental professionals’ and GPs’ knowledge around detection of oral cancer and covers the signs to look out for, how to respond, as well as possible risk factors for oral cancer. The toolkit will feature a detailed image library, a referral guide, case studies, examination videos and a CPD quiz.

The toolkit was produced with funding from the Department of Health, in response to research indicating that there was a need for an oral cancer educational resource to improve the knowledge gaps among GPs and dental healthcare professionals. This educational toolkit aims to boost the knowledge and confidence among dental health professionals and GPs in helping to identify suspicious oral lesions and appropriately refer them to secondary care.

This resource is freely accessible to all GPs and dental health professionals.

***** In an evaluation conducted by Cancer Research UK, the toolkit was found to increase understanding of the NICE oral cancer guidelines, increase confidence to make appropriate referrals and improve the way soft tissue examinations were conducted among dentists and GPs.


******* Based on age-standardised incidence rates from 10 cases per 100,000 people between 2004-2006 to 13 cases per 100,000 people between 2013-2015 in the UK.

About Cancer Research UK

  • Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research.
  • Cancer Research UK’s pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.
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  • Today, 2 in 4 people survive their cancer for at least 10 years. Cancer Research UK’s ambition is to accelerate progress so that by 2034, 3 in 4 people will survive their cancer for at least 10 years.
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Editors Notes



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The British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy (BSDHT) is a nationally recognised body that represents over 4,000 Dental Hygienists and Dental Therapists across the UK and beyond.

BSDHT maintain an on-going dialogue with the General Dental Council (GDC), the Departments of Health and all of the main groups representing dental care professionals, and attends meetings of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Dentistry, bringing dental hygiene and therapy to the attention of government ministers and MP’s.

Visit for more information.

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