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Thursday, 1 June, 2000, 09:01 GMT 10:01 UK
Minorities warned over oral cancer
dental work
Dentists may be able to spot oral cancer
People from ethnic minorities should have regular checks because many are at greater risk of oral cancer, say dentists.

Cancer: the facts
This is because of the popularity of chewing tobacco and betel quids, a mixture of tobacco, leaves and spices, among the south Asian community.

Oral cancers account for four in ten of all cancers in India.

Chewing tobacco is one of the most significant risk factors for the development of oral cancer, which, if undetected, can be extremely hard to treat.

The British Dental Association is sending out its first oral cancer guidelines for two years to members.

It can be hard to spot the disease - many dentists will only perhaps see a handful of cases in their careers, and doctors also may not recognise the signs.

Missed 19 times

People are dying of oral cancer because of ignorance

Dr Geoff Craig, British Dental Association

The recent case of a father of three from Barnsley whose oral cancer was missed 19 times by a variety of doctors illustrates this.

The BDA is urging people to visit their dentist regularly in a bid to improve early detection rates.

Four people a day die from oral cancer in the UK, with 2,800 new cases reported every year.

People whose oral cancer is detected early have an 80% chance of surviving for five years, compared to an average five year survival of 50%.

Dr Geoff Craig, chairman of the BDA's health and science committee, said: "People are dying of oral cancer because of ignorance, and we want to prevent that.

"Dentists have a unique opportunity to screen patients for oral cancer and give advice about prevention."

The Department of Health backed the BDA call for people to visit the dentist regularly.

A spokesperson said: "Dentists are already paid to routinely examine the soft tissues of the oral cavity and to refer the patient to a cancer specialist if they suspect a lesion is present.

"There is, however, no evidence for the effectiveness of screening for oral cancer in reducing mortality from the disease.

"We believe that prevention offers the best prospect of reducing the incidence of oral cancer. As the BDA indicates, smoking and alcohol abuse are the main risk factors."

As well as chewing tobacco, other risk factors include heavy conventional smoking, drinking. Older people and men are at higher risk.

Scotland has the highest rates of oral cancer in the UK, with 100 new cases per million each year - almost double the rate in the rest of Britain.

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See also:

11 May 00 | Health
Cancer 'missed 19 times'
26 Jul 99 | Health
Chewing tobacco cancer warning
28 Feb 00 | Scotland
Mouth cancer awareness bid
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