The results of the survey are presented today (Wednesday) at the launch of the Cancer Research UK Tower Hamlets mouth cancer awareness campaign. The campaign aims to increase understanding of the risks and early signs of the disease and is funded by the Department of Health.
Cases of mouth cancer have shot up by a quarter over the past 10 years to around 4,400 every year in the UK. The Bangladeshi community is particularly at risk of the disease as a high proportion of people smoke or chew tobacco or betel quid1. Tobacco is the leading cause of the disease.
Four hundred adults from the Tower Hamlets community who smoke or chew tobacco or betel quid were surveyed. Less than half – 49 per cent – recognised chewing tobacco, and only 64 per cent recognised smoking, as risk factors for the disease. These figures are much lower than the UK average of 91 and 94 per cent2 respectively.
But 58 per cent mistakenly reported ‘not cleaning teeth’ as a risk factor for mouth cancer. And only 32 per cent knew that drinking tea is not linked to the disease.
Just 18 per cent were aware that chewing betel quid without tobacco also increases mouth cancer risk3.
Cancer Research UK’s ‘Open Up To Mouth Cancer’ campaign aims to raise awareness of mouth cancer by making bilingual leaflets and posters widely available throughout the community and by encouraging people to get checked for the disease at one of a number of mobile dental surgeries. The surgeries** have been organised in collaboration with the Tower Hamlets Primary Care Trust Community Dental Awareness Project.
Ray Croucher, Professor of Community Oral Health at Queen Mary, University of London, who analysed the results of the survey, said: “The findings show that awareness of the major cause of mouth cancer is very low. This is worrying as smoking and chewing tobacco and betel quid are so prevalent in this community. The results emphasise the need for Cancer Research UK’s campaign in East London. The good news is, mouth cancer is largely preventable and early detection of the symptoms of the disease greatly improves the chances of survival.”
Launching the campaign, the Baroness Uddin urged people who are concerned about possible signs of mouth cancer to attend one of the surgeries or to go to their doctor or dentist for a check-up. She said: “I’m delighted Cancer Research UK is running this campaign. More and more people are dying from mouth cancer because they don’t realise the dangers of tobacco and betel quid, or spot the symptoms too late for it to be treated successfully.
“I hope the campaign will raise awareness and save lives by helping people to recognise the early signs of the disease and get them checked out promptly. It will also encourage people to seek help to stop smoking, or chewing tobacco or betel quid.”
Nearly three quarters of respondents – 73 per cent – were likely to agree to be checked for symptoms of the disease. But knowledge about what the check-up involves is poor. Only seven per cent knew the examination takes just a few minutes and just eight per cent understood x-rays are not involved.
Members of the Bangladeshi community were involved in the development of the awareness materials. The survey was carried out by Agroni, a company that specialises in ethnic minority research. The 400 interviews were carried out by people who could translate into Bengali if required.
Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s head of health information, said: “Our new campaign aims to increase awareness of the symptoms and risks for mouth cancer. Evidence shows that early detection can significantly improve the chances of successful treatment – raising five year survival rates from around 50 to 90 per cent.”
The most common signs of mouth cancer are sores, ulcers, red or white patches and unexplained pain in the mouth or ear. Less common signs include a lump in the neck, a persistent sore throat or difficulty swallowing.
Sara Hiom, added: “If any of these signs persists for more than three weeks they need to be checked out by a doctor or dentist.”