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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 November 2005, 00:15 GMT
Alcohol causing mouth cancer rise
Image of beer
Alcohol abuse is estimated to cost the economy 18bn
Growing alcohol use is causing a steep rise in mouth cancer cases, experts have warned just days before the planned extension of pub opening hours.

Mouth cancer now kills more people in the UK than cervical cancer and testicular cancer put together - some 1,600 people last year.

Yet more than 75% of cases are preventable by quitting smoking and drinking alcohol only in moderation.

Cancer Research UK is launching a three-year campaign to raise awareness.

Boozy culture

Cases of mouth cancer have risen by a quarter over the past 10 years - from 3,411 cases in 1992 to 4,285 in 2001.

While smoking rates have fallen in recent years - mainly as people have begun to acknowledge the health risks it poses - alcohol consumption has risen sharply.

On November 24 pubs in England and Wales, which have successfully applied for licenses will become free to serve customers up to 24 hours a day.

People are not aware that alcohol is a major cause of mouth cancer
Professor Alex Markham, Cancer Research UK's chief executive

Ministers believe that the current 11pm cut-off for serving alcohol, introduced in World War I to curb drinking by workers in munitions factories, encourages a social culture in which people rush their drinks.

They believe that scrapping the traditional closing time will cut binge drinking and encourage a new culture more akin to continental Europe.

But Professor Alex Markham, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, disagrees

He also said the health damage caused by alcohol was under-recognised.

"People are not aware that alcohol is a major cause of mouth cancer.

"Alcohol is the second biggest risk factor after tobacco use. This fact is very little known."

Mouth cancer warning signs
See a doctor or dentist if any of these last for more than three weeks:
An ulcer or sore in your mouth
A red or white patch in your mouth
An unexplained pain in your mouth or ear
An unexplained lump in your neck
A sore or painful throat
A croaky voice or difficulty swallowing

Above four units of alcohol per day (four small glasses of wine), the risk of mouth cancer increases linearly with the amount of alcohol consumed.

The awareness of the symptoms and the signs of oral cancer is also much lower than it should be, says the charity.

Cancer Research UK's campaign, with 300,000 funding from the government, will target those most at risk - heavy drinkers, smokers and people who chew tobacco.

As well as raising awareness of the condition, the campaign provides information on the warning signs to look out for, such as an ulcer or sore in the mouth that lasts longer than three weeks.

Anyone who is concerned should see their doctor or dentist. Healthcare professionals will also be receiving information to help them spot early oral cancers.

Sara Hiom of Cancer Research UK explained: "The good news is that the disease is largely preventable.

"Evidence shows that early detection of mouth cancer can significantly improve the chances of successful treatment - raising five-year survival rates from around 50% to 90%."


Lesley King-Lewis, chief executive of Action on Addiction, said: "Mouth cancer is just one of many health problems caused by or contributed to by alcohol.

"As many as 5,000 deaths from cancer each year can be attributed to drinking too much alcohol, yet 5.9 million people in the UK drink more than twice the recommended daily amounts on some occasions."

Public Health Minister Caroline Flint welcomed the "Open Up to Mouth Cancer" campaign and said it should make a big difference.

She said the change in pub licensing hours should be taken in context with all of the other changes within the same Licensing Act, including giving police increased powers to deal with pub staff who serve to under-18s.

The government has also launched an eye-catching poster campaign warning "Get drunk and disorderly, get arrested, get an 80 fine", with one spelling out 80 in vomit.

Ms Flint said the government was also continuing to provide support to help smokers quit.

Doctor Lesley Walker from Cancer Research answered your questions on News 24. Click on the video button on the left-hand side to watch.

How mouth cancer left actor Jack Wild without a voice

Cancer Research expert answered your questions

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