Oral sex, smoking, drinking too much alcohol and a poor diet can all increase your risk of mouth cancer.
But do you know how much your lifestyle is raising your risk of the disease? A new test has been devised to answer that question.
Nine in ten mouth cancers are caused by preventable lifestyle factors, experts warn.
Yet the majority of Britons do not consider themselves to be at risk of mouth cancer, despite many admitting to smoking and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, new research has shown.
Oral Health Foundation found that more than three in four (78 per cent) of adults were unaware of the effects.
Scroll down to take the test
Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the charity said: ‘More than nine in ten mouth cancers are linked to lifestyle factors and the only way to curb this risk is by quitting or reducing habits such as smoking and alcohol.
‘Mouth cancer is still a relatively unknown disease, with many still unaware that you are able to develop cancer on the tongue, cheeks, lips, head and neck.
‘It is important to be aware that cancer could develop in this area of the body, especially if you regularly exposure yourself to lifestyle choices which have been linked with the disease.’
WHAT IS YOUR RISK OF MOUTH CANCER?
Scorecard: A = 10 points | B = 7 points | C = 3 points | D = 1 points
1. What is your smoking status?
a. Heavy smoker b. Moderate c. Ex-smoker d. Never smoker
2. How much alcohol do you drink in a week?
a. 14+ units b. 6-13 units c. 1-5 units d. Do not drink
3. How often do you have oral sex?
a. Daily b. Weekly c. Monthly d. Annually or less 4.
How many portions of fish, fruit and vegetable do you have a day?
a. 0 b. 1-4 c. 5-9 d. 10+ 5.
Do you use smokeless tobacco or chewing tobacco (paan, gutkha, betel nut)? a. Yes, often b. Yes, occasionally c. Ex-user d. Never user
Your mouth cancer risk is….
0-5 – Low
You seem to live a healthy lifestyle and are at low risk of developing mouth cancer.
Risk is not totally diminished though so it is advised that you maintain regular visits to the dentist, as often as they recommend.
6-20 – Moderate
Your risk of mouth cancer is relatively low but you could improve elements of your lifestyle to reduce your risk further.
Try to reduce some habits, visit the dentist regularly and be alert to any unusual changes in the mouth.
21-30 – Considerable
You could be at risk of mouth cancer due to frequently exposing yourself to a number of lifestyle choices associated with the disease.
Cut down on these and try to improve your diet. Visit the dentist regularly and be more active in performing self-checks at home.
31-50 – High
You could be at extreme risk of developing mouth cancer. It is important that you try to improve your health by adopting a healthier lifestyle.
You might need more regular dental appointments due to your current choices and it is highly advised you begin a routine of self-examining your mouth at home for anything out of the ordinary.
The survey, of more than 2,000 people, showed that almost one in five (18 per cent) of those polled smoke, while nearly half (48 per cent) drink alcohol on a regular basis.
Close to a third (31 per cent) confess to having an unhealthy diet while more than one in ten (11%) have oral sex more at least once a week.
Some types of oral cancer are linked to sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV) infection in the mouth and throat.
Latest figures show the number of new mouth cancer cases each year in the UK has exceeded 7,500, an increase of more than two thirds (68 per cent) in the last 20 years.
More than 2.5 million British adults exceed the recommended 14 units of alcohol weekly while there are an estimated 8.5 million smokers.
The current lifetime risk of mouth cancer in the UK is higher for men – one in 75 – compared to women – and one in 150.
That is because males are more likely to smoke (18 per cent vs 17 per cent), are a fifth more likely to regularly consume alcohol (57 per cent vs 40 per cent).
The research shows men and are twice as likely to perform oral sex (14 per cent vs 7 per cent) compared to women.
Don’t be complacent
SYMPTOMS TO LOOK OUT FOR
Three signs and symptoms NOT to ignore are:
- Ulcers which do not heal in three weeks.
- Red and white patches in the mouth.
- Unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth or head and neck area.
- If any of these are noticed, it is essential that you tell your dentist or doctor immediately.
Manchester-based dentist Dr Ben Atkins, a Trustee at the Oral Health Foundation, says although mouth cancer is linked to certain risk factors, it is not completely avoidable.
Dr Atkins says: ‘While there are steps you can take to keep mouth cancer at bay, no cancer is totally preventable.
‘Being diagnosed with mouth cancer remains fairly unlikely but could happen to anybody so it is really important to know what to look for and be proactive in looking for the early warnings signs.
‘Lookout for mouth ulcers that do not heal within three weeks, red or white patches and unusual lumps and swellings.
‘Places to check include the floor and roof of your mouth, inside of the cheeks, gums, tongue, lips, head and neck.
‘If you notice any of these, please make an appointment with your dentist or doctor.’
Mouth Cancer Action Month aims to raise awareness of mouth cancer, promote the value of self-examination and encourage regular trips to the dentist, as they perform a visual mouth cancer check during every dental check-up.