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Smokers up to 10 times more likely to die from mouth and throat cancer


Nearly 5 Victorians are diagnosed with mouth cancer every week, according to figures released today.

The data, from The Cancer Council Victoria, comes at the same time a confronting new quit smoking advertisement, depicting a woman with mouth cancer, hits television screens nationally.

Although the risk of dying from mouth and throat cancer is around ten times higher among male smokers and five times higher among female smokers compared with someone who has never smoked, awareness about the relationship between smoking and oral disease remains alarmingly low.

Only 5% of smokers are aware that smoking causes mouth cancer, with only 15% of smokers being able to identify, without prompting, that smoking causes throat cancer.

The data from The Cancer Council Victoria shows that in 2004:

  • 237 Victorians were diagnosed with mouth cancer
  • Mouth cancer claimed the lives of 60 Victorians
  • After diagnoses with mouth cancer, 53% of men and 57% of women in Victoria are still alive after five years.

Director of The Cancer Council Victoria, Professor David Hill, said these figures were particularly tragic given that most mouth and throat cancer deaths could have been prevented.

"People who smoke expose their mouth to all 4000 chemicals found in tobacco smoke, so it is no surprise that smoking is responsible for 52% of mouth and throat cancers in men and 42% in women."

According to Professor Hill, the good news for smokers is that they can reduce their risk of mouth and throat cancers by making the decision to quit.

"Stopping smoking halves the risk of mouth and throat cancers within five years and the risk continues to decline over time. After ten years the risk of mouth cancer is similar to someone who has never smoked."

Dr John O'Grady, a dental oncologist at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, said that smoking has potentially devastating effects on the mouth.

"Advanced cancers of the mouth and throat can cause chronic pain, loss of function and disfigurement. Breathing, talking, eating, chewing and swallowing can all be affected."

Dr O'Grady said early detection of mouth and throat cancer can increase the chance of survival.

"Cancers of the mouth and throat can be an incredibly destructive, so it is vital to remember that early detection significantly increases the chances of patient's survival."

"Diseases of the mouth and throat can be developing for years before a diagnosis is made. A sore mouth that does not heal, persistent swelling, a lump in the mouth or thickening in the mouth are just some of the early signs of mouth cancer that can become crippling or fatal," said Dr O'Grady

Executive Director of Quit, Mr Todd Harper, said he hoped the new mouth cancer campaign would help address the lack of understanding about the health effects of smoking.

"The concept for the mouth cancer media campaign was tested with smokers of all ages and backgrounds, and it was found to have a strong impact."

"This is incredibly important in light of the data released today, which reminds us that the majority of smokers are still in the dark when it comes to the devastating relationship between smoking and mouth and throat cancers."

The advertisement, produced by The Campaign Palace/Red Cell, is part of a new national quit smoking campaign that has been developed in collaboration between state and territory smoking and health programs.

If you need help and support to quit smoking, call the Quitline on 13 7848


Edwina Vellar,
Media Manager
ph: (03) 9635 5400
mob: 0417 303 811

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