Objective: There are more than 2,000 new cases of mouth cancer each year in Britain. Early detection is important yet little is known about population awareness of this disease and ability to recognise early signs, particularly among high risk groups. This study aimed to address this issue.
Methods: Data were collected by means of household survey. A total of 3,384 adults were questioned using a national probability sample. Respondents provided information on demographic characteristics, smoking status, and frequency of alcohol use. They were asked whether they had heard of mouth cancer. Their knowledge of early signs and risk factors was assessed.
Results: Whereas 95.6% of respondents said they had heard of mouth cancer, their awareness of early signs was low; for example, only 33.8% recognised that white patches in the mouth were a sign. The large majority understood that smoking and chewing tobacco were risk factors (84.7% and 80.1% respectively) but only 19.4% recognised alcohol use as a risk factor. In multiple logistic regression analyses controlling for relevant demographic factors, smokers and those with more frequent alcohol consumption were less likely to recognise early signs.
Conclusions: Awareness of early signs of mouth cancer is low and lower in people who as a result of their behaviour are at higher risk. There is a need to raise awareness in those at most risk.