Many Bangladeshis in the UK are unaware that smoking or chewing tobacco or betel quid increase the risk of developing mouth cancer – according to a new survey from the charity Cancer Research UK.

The results of the survey are presented today (Wednesday) at the launch of the Cancer Research UK Tower Hamlets mouth cancer awareness campaign. The campaign aims to increase understanding of the risks and early signs of the disease and is funded by the Department of Health.

Cases of mouth cancer have shot up by a quarter over the past 10 years to around 4,400 every year in the UK. The Bangladeshi community is particularly at risk of the disease as a high proportion of people smoke or chew tobacco or betel quid1. Tobacco is the leading cause of the disease.

Four hundred adults from the Tower Hamlets community who smoke or chew tobacco or betel quid were surveyed. Less than half – 49 per cent – recognised chewing tobacco, and only 64 per cent recognised smoking, as risk factors for the disease. These figures are much lower than the UK average of 91 and 94 per cent2 respectively.

But 58 per cent mistakenly reported ‘not cleaning teeth’ as a risk factor for mouth cancer. And only 32 per cent knew that drinking tea is not linked to the disease.

Just 18 per cent were aware that chewing betel quid without tobacco also increases mouth cancer risk3.

Cancer Research UK’s ‘Open Up To Mouth Cancer’ campaign aims to raise awareness of mouth cancer by making bilingual leaflets and posters widely available throughout the community and by encouraging people to get checked for the disease at one of a number of mobile dental surgeries. The surgeries** have been organised in collaboration with the Tower Hamlets Primary Care Trust Community Dental Awareness Project.

Ray Croucher, Professor of Community Oral Health at Queen Mary, University of London, who analysed the results of the survey, said: “The findings show that awareness of the major cause of mouth cancer is very low. This is worrying as smoking and chewing tobacco and betel quid are so prevalent in this community. The results emphasise the need for Cancer Research UK’s campaign in East London. The good news is, mouth cancer is largely preventable and early detection of the symptoms of the disease greatly improves the chances of survival.”

Launching the campaign, the Baroness Uddin urged people who are concerned about possible signs of mouth cancer to attend one of the surgeries or to go to their doctor or dentist for a check-up. She said: “I’m delighted Cancer Research UK is running this campaign. More and more people are dying from mouth cancer because they don’t realise the dangers of tobacco and betel quid, or spot the symptoms too late for it to be treated successfully.

“I hope the campaign will raise awareness and save lives by helping people to recognise the early signs of the disease and get them checked out promptly. It will also encourage people to seek help to stop smoking, or chewing tobacco or betel quid.”

Nearly three quarters of respondents – 73 per cent – were likely to agree to be checked for symptoms of the disease. But knowledge about what the check-up involves is poor. Only seven per cent knew the examination takes just a few minutes and just eight per cent understood x-rays are not involved.

Members of the Bangladeshi community were involved in the development of the awareness materials. The survey was carried out by Agroni, a company that specialises in ethnic minority research. The 400 interviews were carried out by people who could translate into Bengali if required.

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s head of health information, said: “Our new campaign aims to increase awareness of the symptoms and risks for mouth cancer. Evidence shows that early detection can significantly improve the chances of successful treatment – raising five year survival rates from around 50 to 90 per cent.”

The most common signs of mouth cancer are sores, ulcers, red or white patches and unexplained pain in the mouth or ear. Less common signs include a lump in the neck, a persistent sore throat or difficulty swallowing.

Sara Hiom, added: “If any of these signs persists for more than three weeks they need to be checked out by a doctor or dentist.”


For media enquiries please contact Sophy Gould or Laura Peters at the Cancer Research UK press office on 0207 061 8318. Or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.

High resolution images of mouth cancers and a fact sheet on the disease are available on request.


  1. Betel quid is a mixture of betel nut and other ingredients, wrapped in a betel leaf. Many betel quid users add tobacco to the mixture. Either way, betel quid causes cancer.
  2. BMRB International. Mouth cancer survey (2005). Commissioned by Cancer Research UK.
  3. A recent evaluation by the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that chewing tobacco causes cancer. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans (2004) Volume 85 Betel-quid and Areca-nut Chewing and Some Areca-nut-derived Nitrosamines.

For a free and simple check for mouth cancer by a specially trained dentist, come to the mobile dental surgery between 9am and 5pm at the places listed below:

  • Wednesday 14 June: Brady Centre, 191-196 Hanbury Street, E1 5HU
  • Saturday 24 June: Asda Isle of Dogs, 151 East Ferry Road, E14 3BT
  • Friday 30 June: East London Mosque, 82 Whitechapel Road, E1 1JQ
  • Saturday 1 July: Tesco Bethnal Green Road, E2 6LG
  • Wednesday 5 July: Bromley-by-Bow Health Centre, 1 Bruce Street, E3 3BT

In 2003 mouth cancer killed 1,592 people, cervical cancer killed 1,098 and testicular cancer killed 89.

The number of cases of mouth cancer in Great Britain rose from 3,411 in 1992 to 4,285 in 2001. This equates to an increase of 26 per cent.

Tobacco is the major risk factor for mouth cancer. Stopping smoking or chewing tobacco leads to a rapid reduction in risk of the disease – the risk falling by 50 per cent within five years. After 10 years, the risk approaches that for life-long non-tobacco users.

You can find out more about Cancer Research UK’s mouth cancer awareness campaign on the  Open Up To Mouth Cancer website.

The Open Up To Mouth Cancer campaign is a three-year campaign with funding from the Department of Health. The campaign aims to raise awareness of the risks and symptoms of mouth cancer, and the importance of early detection.

Open Up To Mouth Cancer is part of Cancer Research UK’s Reduce the Risk campaign – launched in January 2005 – 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.

Half of all cancers could be prevented by changes to lifestyle. Find out more about Cancer Research UK’s  Reduce the Risk campaign by visiting the website.

Visit our CancerHelp UK patient information website for clear, easy to understand information about cancer and cancer treatments.