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Up to half of all head and neck cancer survivors face a diminished quality of life, even after five years of survival.

Jan 1st, 2019

Up to half of all head and neck cancer survivors face a diminished quality of life, even after five years of survival.

That is, according to a recent study(3) undertaken by the University of Iowa, which concluded that a large percentage of long-term survivors of head and neck cancer have poor oral function, resulting in persistent eating problems and long-term depression.

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More than half of respondents (51.6%) reported problems with eating, while on average one in four survivors who lived for five or more years still experienced speech problems.

It was a similar story when it came to a patient’s physical and mental health, with more than a third (36.7% and 39.3%, respectively) recording low functionality after the five-year analysis.

Mouth cancer campaigners have recently estimated 6,000 people in the UK contracted the disease in 2011, and while early detection can transform survival rates to 90%, without it one in two will die.

According to Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr. Nigel Carter, the study highlights the problems mouth cancer sufferers face.

Dr. Carter said: “The results of the study show the scale of the problems mouth cancer patients have to live with. The corrective surgery required to remove cancerous cells often leaves physical and emotional scars that can take years to heal.

“While all cancer patients require a great deal of care, those recovering from mouth cancer clearly suffer from the after-effects of surgery, both physically and mentally.”

While Dr. Carter also suggested the results show patients need as much support from the health service as possible, a loophole in the NHS means problems may be compounded, as mouth cancer patients have no guarantee that their restorative dental treatment will be paid for by the NHS.

As a result of this loophole, campaigners are calling for the inequality to be put right in the new commissioning arrangements for NHS dental contracts to make sure that mouth cancer sufferers are exempt from dental charges. An e-petition form(4), available at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/22063 has been established to seek professional and public support, and is sufficient signatures are obtained it will prompt debate of the issue in the House of Commons.

Dr. Carter added: “Supporting the e-petition will not only bring the issue into the public limelight, it will help to improve the quality of life for mouth cancer patients.”

The British Dental Health Foundation is the UK’s leading oral health charity, with a 40–year track record of providing public information and influencing government policy. It maintains a free consumer advice service, an impartial and objective product accreditation scheme, publishes and distributes a wide range of literature for the profession and consumers, and runs National Smile Month each May, to promote greater awareness of the benefits of better oral health. For more information visit www.dentalhealth.org. Please visit the Foundation’s Twitter accounts: dentalhealthorg and mouthcancerorg and add our Facebook fan-page: ‘British Dental Health Foundation’. You can find more information on mouth cancer at the website www.mouthcancer.org.

About Mouth Cancer

  • Around 60,000 people in the UK will be diagnosed with mouth cancer over the next decade.
  • Sufferers of the condition include American actor Michael Douglas, BBC Broadcaster Danny Baker, and ex England and Manchester United Football Captain Bryan Robson.
  • Tobacco use is still considered the main cause of mouth cancer. According to the World Health Organisation, up to half of current smokers will die of a tobacco-related illness — including mouth cancer.
  • Drinking to excess can increase the risk of mouth cancer by four times. Those who smoke and drink are up to 30 times more likely to develop mouth cancer.
  • Mouth cancer is twice more common in men than in women, though an increasing number of women are being diagnosed with the disease.
  • Gerry F. Funk, MD., Lucy Hynds Karnell, PhD., and Alan J. Christensen, PhD; Long-term Health-Related Quality of Life in Survivors of Head and Neck Cancer; Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg; Published online January 16, 2012; doi:10.1001/archoto.2011.234.
  • The E-petition is available here: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/22063
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