Well, this sucks.
Mouth cancer rates “have more than doubled in a generation,” according to a new awareness campaign by the Brit-based nonprofit Oral Health Foundation.
Over the past 20 years, mouth cancer diagnoses have skyrocketed 135 percent in the UK. In 2018 alone, seven people died every day from the disease out of a total 8,337 patients in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
US rates are comparable: According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, there are about 54,000 Americans diagnosed with oral or oropharyngeal cancer (including the larynx) every year, with at least one patient dying per hour every day, causing approximately 13,500 deaths per year.
The hygiene advocacy group warned people to be aware of the causes of mouth cancer — primarily the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV), drinking alcohol and smoking.
Dr. Nigel Carter, chief executive of the OHF, told the Daily Mail, “While most cancers are on the decrease, cases of mouth cancer continue to rise at an alarming rate.”
He added that HPV is considered an “emerging risk factor” compared to “traditional” causes like smoking and boozing. According to their report, HPV causes an estimated 73 percent of oropharyngeal mouth cancers.
It’s not the first time the STI has been linked to cancer in a high-profile way.
Actor Michael Douglas, 75, infamously blamed his throat cancer diagnosis on his fondness for oral intercourse. (Though the actor and husband of Catherine Zeta-Jones, 50, later backpedaled on that claim.) HPV can cause other cancers related to sex acts as well, such as with “Desperate Housewives” actress Marcia Cross, 57, who became an awareness advocate after being diagnosed with anal cancer.
Beyond sex, having more than 10 alcoholic drinks per week causes approximately 33 percent of diagnoses, the OHF reports. Smoking is tied to about 17 percent of cases, while increasing your individual risk of disease by 91 percent.
In the US, the five-year survival rate for cancer in the oral cavity is about 57 percent. Those who live through it could have to do so without a tongue or jaw.
Carter called mouth cancer a “devastating” disease: “It changes how somebody speaks, it makes eating and drinking more difficult and often changes a person’s physical appearance.”