By Pr0fessor Lawrence Young
The seemingly unstoppable rise of throat and mouth cancers over the past two decades has left experts baffled and deeply concerned. These are truly horrible diseases.
More than 15,000 new patients are diagnosed each year in Britain alone and almost 8,000 die from the most common type, cancer of the oesophagus.
Two-thirds of sufferers are men. And those that survive are often left horrifically disfigured by aggressive radiotherapy and surgery. Most worryingly, numbers of new cases have doubled since 1989.
We used to think most oral and throat cancers – which also include laryngeal (voice box), tracheal (windpipe) and oropharyngeal (soft-palate) tumours – were due to a lifetime of smoking and heavy alcohol consumption, and only really occurred in old age.
But as health messages hit home, numbers of smokers and drinkers dropped, fewer older men and women developed these cancers and a new group of patients – middle-class, middle-aged men who drank moderately and had never smoked – emerged. This was a surprise.