Association responds to rising oral cancer rates

09 November 2023

The British Dental Association (BDA) has stressed the government must act to meaningfully restore access to NHS dentistry as oral cancer rates and deaths continue to rise.

Dentists often pick up the tell-tale signs at a routine check-up. New data shows there were 9,860 cases of mouth cancer in the UK in 2020/21 - up 12 per cent on the previous comparable year. The disease killed more than 3,000 people in 2021 - up 46 per cent from 2,075 a decade ago.

Early detection results in a roughly 90 per cent survival rate, compared to a 50 per cent survival rate for delayed diagnosis. In this context, the BDA stresses ongoing access problems will make a difference between life and death for some patients.

While ‘high risk’ patients can be targeted - older smokers, heavy drinkers - there is a significant growth in cases of Human papillomavirus (HPV), who are generally younger, do not usually smoke and drink little or no alcohol.

Oral cancer now claims more lives than road collisions in each of the UK nations.

NHS dentistry in England is still waiting on a promised recovery plan from the government, expected before summer. The government is also late in providing a response to the damning inquiry into the service from the Health and Social Care Committee.

Eddie Crouch, British Dental Association chair, said, “Every dental check-up doubles as an oral cancer screening. When late detection can radically reduce your chances of survival, the access crisis millions face will inevitably cost lives.

“This condition causes more deaths than car accidents. With rates surging, we need more than radio silence from Westminster.”