Oral Cancer Rates Up – but is the real truth hard to swallow?

There have been a lot of mentions in the media over the past 10 days that the rates of Oral Cancer have risen in individuals in their 40s.

When I was a student & during my hospital career we were told that Oral & Lip Cancers were related to the “5Ss”:

  • Smoking,
  • Spirits,
  • Sepsis,
  • Sunshine
  • Syphilis.

Of these without doubt the greatest cause was and remains smoking; spirits were usually blamed but heavy drinkers frequently smoked heavily and there was a synergistic effect of the two. Sepsis was implicated because frequently victims were in poor condition already and heavy smokers’ mouths were never the best with widespread gum disease. Sunshine without doubt led to an increase in tumours of lips & facial skin. Syphilis well that shows my vintage; however we seem to retain some of our puritan attitude to talking about sex.

The recent news has picked, as ever, on the easy target ‘Alcohol To Blame For Rise In Oral Cancers’ said the Sky News headline, ‘A sober look at the rise in mouth cancer’ in The Times blames binge-drinking, a phrase that has only been in use for a few years far too soon for the effects to be measured properly. It is impossible to properly understand an epidemic until it is over.

As ever the anti-booze bandwagon has used this information to threaten doom, but whilst most reports mention there could be involvement of the human papilloma virus it gets very little publicity. As long ago as Feb 2004 BBC News reported “Oral Sex Linked To Mouth Cancer”. This is the same virus implicated in cervical cancer and causes genital warts, a vaccine is available and should be given to both girls and boys before they become sexually active. This much we can do easily and far easier than persuading sexually active and experimental young people into changing habits. I realise that the nay-sayers will tell you that it leads to promiscuity as it removes the fear of infection but that is really an unrealistic argument.

A recent study conducted by Dr. Maura Gillison at the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center furthered the premise that HPV is linked with certain types of oral cancer. In 25% of 253 patients diagnosed with head and neck cancers, the tissue taken from tumors was HPV positive and HPV 16 was present in 90% of these positive HPV tissues. This information helps to confirm that there is a strong link between HPV 16 and oral cancer. 25% of those diagnosed with oral cancer are non-smokers while the other 75% of those diagnosed have used tobacco in some form during their lifetimes. The research into the relationship of HPV and oral malignancies may give us clues as to the origin of cancer in those 25% of diagnosed individuals who did not smoke. Further research is being conducted into the relationship of HPV with oral cancers.

The habits that dare not speak their name?

4 Responses

  1. […] read it in conjunction with my blogpost on the cause of Oral Cancers that I wrote in August last […]


  2. […] two previous blog posts August 2009 and January 2014 I have supported the argument for boys to be offered the HPV vaccination. If you […]


  3. […] have written about this before here and here and […]


  4. […] have written before about HPV vaccination HERE, HERE, HERE, & HERE. I thought all was going well however this article in the Lancet has made […]


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