Cancer of the lip, mouth, tongue and throat in this age group have risen by a quarter in the past decade, with 1,800 people in the UK dying every year from the disease.
Smoking and alcohol are the two main risk factors for oral cancer. But as cancer caused by smoking often take up to 30 years to develop, tobacco is not thought to be the main cause. Alcohol consumption has doubled since the 1950s and is the most likely culprit says Cancer Research UK.
Other risk facts include a diet low in fruit and vegetables, and the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer.
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Figures produced by Cancer Research UK show that since the mid-1990s, rates of oral cancers have gone up by 28% for men in their forties and 24% for women.
The charity’s health information manager Hazel Nunn said, ‘These latest figures are really alarming. Around three quarters of oral cancers are thought to be cause by smoking and drinking alcohol. Tobacco is, by far, the main risk factor for oral cancer, so it’s important that we keep encouraging people to give up and think about new ways to stop people taking it up in the first place.
But for people in their 40s, it seems that other factors are also contributing to this jump in oral cancer rates. Alcohol consumption has doubled since the 1950s and the trend we are now seeing is likely to be linked to Britain’s continually rising drinking levels.
It’s possible that HPV and diet are also playing a role, and the evidence – particularly for the role of HPV – is growing.’