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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 November 2005, 03:26 GMT
'My lifestyle caused my mouth cancer'
Image of Jack and Claire
The only symptom Jack had was earache
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.

One-time child star Jack Wild, 53, communicates to others through his wife Claire since he lost his voice three years ago.

The seasoned actor had to have his voice box - the larynx - and tongue removed because he developed mouth cancer, which could not be beaten with radiotherapy alone.

My lifestyle had made me a walking time bomb.
Jack Wild

It was a huge blow to Jack, who was nominated for an Oscar at the age of 16 for his famous performance as the Artful Dodger in the 1968 movie version of Oliver!

But he is grateful that the cancer has not returned a second time and says it is vital that other people recognise the signs and symptoms of this increasingly common cancer.

Jack playing the Artful Dodger in Oliver
Jack aged 16 playing the Artful Dodger in Oliver!

Currently, nearly 4,500 people have mouth cancer in the UK.

Like Jack, many develop it because of a lifestyle of heavy drinking and smoking.

Jack said: "Until I was diagnosed with mouth cancer, I'd never heard of it.

"What I learned very quickly was that my lifestyle had made me a walking time bomb.

"I was a heavy smoker and an even heavier drinker and apparently together they are a deadly mixture."

Warning signs

The only warning Jack had that something might be wrong was a pain in the ear that would not go away.

He put it down to his busy work schedule and his frequent flights to and from the US.

His wife Claire recalled: "Jack was taking about 20 worth of pain killers each week.

This carried on for some time, but he saw his GP and eventually it was discovered that his pain was down to a tumour at the base of his tongue."

Jack had radiotherapy, but the cancer returned two years later and then his only choice was to have surgery to remove his tongue and larynx.

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

Thankfully, the surgery worked and the cancer has not returned. But it does now mean that Jack cannot speak, drink or eat.

He has to have all of his meals and nutrients delivered in a liquid via a tube that goes straight into his stomach.

"You just have to deal with it," said Jack. "Fortuitously, I have carried on working."

He has continued to take on some acting roles - most recently in the movie Moussaka & Chips - and is currently writing his autobiography.

Jack wants other people who may be at risk of mouth cancer to seek help early so they do not have to go through the same treatment he has had to.

Mouth cancer is easier to treat if caught early and the chances of survival are greatly improved. Also, up to 75% of cases could be avoided by stopping smoking and reducing alcohol intake."

Jack said: "I would urge anyone who has the symptoms to get them checked out immediately."

How mouth cancer left actor Jack Wild without a voice


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