Data released today shows around 4 Victorians are diagnosed with oral cancer every week, with over 25% of these cases resulting in death.
Although, on average, oral cancer occurs up to 4 times more frequently in smokers than in non-smokers, over 95% of smokers are unaware that smoking even causes oral cancer.
The news is even worse for women and men who are both heavy smokers and heavy drinkers as the risk for oral cancer increases substantially in this situation.
The data from The Cancer Council Victoria shows that in 2003:
- 230 Victorians were diagnosed with oral cancer
- Oral cancer claimed the lives of 43 Victorian men and 22 Victorian women
- Just over 50% of those people affected with oral cancer will survive after five years
Director of The Cancer Council Victoria, Professor David Hill, said the sad fact about oral cancer is that many of the deaths it causes could have been prevented.
'Almost 60% of all cases of oral cancer are a result of smoking so until we are able to get smoking levels down in Victoria, lives will continue to be lost.'
According to Professor Hill, smokers who elect to quit do their oral health a tremendous favour.
'Advanced oral cancer can cause chronic pain, the loss of function and disfigurement, but by quitting smoking, you halve the risk of developing oral cancer after three to five years and this risk continues to decline over time.'
Executive Director of Quit Victoria, Mr Todd Harper, said it was alarming that so few smokers recalled that smoking caused oral cancer.
'There is still some way to go when it comes to public understanding of the harms of smoking, and we must make every effort to ensure people are well informed when it comes to the health effects of smoking.'
Mr Harper said new graphic health warnings, appearing on cigarette packs from next year, would help address this problem.
'From March, graphic health warnings will start to appear on cigarettes packets and importantly, one of these warnings shows the visual effects of mouth cancer as caused by smoking.'
'Every time someone buys a pack of cigarettes with this warning they will reminded that smoking causes mouth cancer, and then once again, each time they reach for a cigarette,' said Mr Harper.
President of the Australian Dental Association Victoria, Dr Chris Callahan, said that smoking has potentially devastating effects on the mouth.
'Dentists are at the front-line when it comes to oral health so we are exposed constantly to the health effects of smoking, and unfortunately it doesn't just stop at bad breath and tobacco staining.'
'Oral cancer can be an incredibly destructive disease, but it is important to note that early detection significantly increases the chances of patient's survival.'
Dr Callahan also pointed out that as well as reducing the risk of oral cancer, quitting smoking also improves the general health of the mouth, gums and teeth.
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