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Oral cancer: Access problems will cost lives

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

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

Early detection results in a roughly 90% survival rate, compared to a 50% survival rate for delayed diagnosis. In this context the BDA stress 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 from 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 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.

British Dental Association Chair Eddie Crouch 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."