Oral Cancer


Oral cancer is the 8th most common malignancy reported worldwide and affects lips, tongue and mouth. The incidence, and mortality from mouth cancer is rising in several regions of Europe. In the early stages oral cancer remains asymptomatic. Proper (systematic) visual inspection of the oral cavity may lead to identifying these early asymptomatic lesions and people at risk. Most oral cancers are however, detected at a late stage, when treatment is complex, costly and has poor outcomes.


Malignant neoplasms in and around the mouth represent one of the ten most common cancers. Almost half a million new cancers of the mouth and pharynx were reported globally in 2008. There is a 15 fold difference in the incidence of oral cancers in different countries of the world. In the WHO European Region (EURO) countries, there were 73,856 new oral cancers reported (GLOBOCAN 2008 v1.2).

The incidence of oral cancer increases with age, most commonly occurs in middle-aged and older individuals. In the past two decades however, a disturbing number of these malignancies is also being documented in younger adults (under the age of 45 years).

The disease is more common in males, with a male:female ratio of over 2:1. However, the disparity in the male:female ratio has become less pronounced because an increasing proportion of women have taken up risk factors such as tobacco and alcohol, since the 1960s.


Intra-oral cancer when diagnosed late is particularly lethal, whereas that of the lip much less so; the crude five-year survival rates for tobacco and alcohol – associated oral cancers being around 50-60%. There is little evidence that survival itself has improved in recent decades except in few specialised head and neck cancer centres. It is important to take note that HPV associated oral cancers have a better prognosis.

Current data (EUCAN, 2012) for Europe on the incidence and mortality for Lip, oral and pharyngeal cancers is given below. For more details, visit the EUCAN website.

Graph 1. Estimated incidence, mortality & prevalence in men, 2012
Estimated incidence,mortality & prevalence in women, 2012



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