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Cancer Research UK to run new mouth cancer campaign

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by Cancer Research UK | News

21 July 2005

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Cancer Research UK will launch a three-year campaign in November to raise awareness of the risks and symptoms of mouth cancer, with funding from the Department of Health.

Following the success of the SunSmart campaign – which the charity has been running with the Government for almost three years – the new campaign will focus on raising awareness of the early signs of mouth cancer and the importance of early detection.

Mouth cancer is a growing problem in the UK. More people are being diagnosed with the disease each year and mortality is relatively high. The latest figures show that around 4,400 people get mouth cancer every year in the UK and nearly 1,600 die from the disease. In 2003 mouth cancer killed more people than cervical cancer.

Most cases of mouth cancer are preventable. The primary risk factors for the disease are tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption.

Evidence shows that early detection of mouth cancer can significantly improve the chances of successful treatment – raising five-year survival rates from around 50 to 90 per cent.

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s Head of Health Information, says: “Although mouth cancer is less common than melanoma, roughly equal numbers of people die from these diseases annually. This reflects the poorer survival rates for mouth cancer.

“Many people do not know enough about mouth cancer and its early signs for it to be detected in good time. We hope that improving awareness of the disease will raise survival rates.

“We also hope that improving people’s understanding of what causes mouth cancer will help them reduce their risk of getting the disease.”

The project will follow many of the successful strategies used by an award-winning mouth cancer campaign run by the West of Scotland Cancer Awareness Project [1].

The Department of Health is giving Cancer Research UK £100,000 a year for an initial three years to run the new campaign.

The campaign will rely in its first year on a PR campaign, to be launched during Mouth Cancer Awareness Week (November 13th-19th). This publicity will be based primarily on research findings.

The charity will also make extensive use of case studies to illustrate the campaign’s messages and reach target audiences through lifestyle publications.

There will also be PR focussed on ‘at-risk’ groups: people who smoke and/or drink heavily, those over the age of 40, people who are not registered with a dentist and those who chew tobacco or betel quid with areca nut, gutkha or paan.

Sara Hiom adds: “Skin cancer awareness programmes have been successful in reducing mortality from melanoma, primarily by improving knowledge of the disease and encouraging early presentation.

“If we can reach similar levels of awareness for mouth cancer and its symptoms we may eventually reduce the number of deaths from the disease. And in the long term, we hope incidence of the disease will decline as people stop smoking and reduce the amount of alcohol they drink.”

“The campaign will include messages to dentists, doctors and pharmacists, who can play key roles referring patients with suspected early signs of mouth cancer to specialists.”

The project will sit within Cancer Research UK’s Reduce the Risk campaign – launched in January this year – which invites people to take positive steps in five areas to reduce their risk of cancer: Stop smoking, Stay in shape, Eat and drink healthily, Be SunSmart and Look after number one – know your body and go for screening when invited.

Campaign branding is still in development, and will be guided by focus groups taking place in the North East of England with at-risk groups.

The Chief Dental Officer for England, Professor Raman Bedi, said: “This campaign is timely because under new contractual arrangements for NHS dentistry, to be introduced next April, dentists will undertake a more extensive assessment of their patients’ oral health.

“We are developing supportive materials to inform the primary care teams of best practice in screening patients for mouth cancer and making appropriate referrals.”