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Oral cancer rates in Wales: mental health and the problem of unmet need

Blog Author Caroline Seddon

Blog Date 20/09/2017


We are pleased to see other health campaigners calling for better anti-smoking services in Wales for those with mental health conditions, as we often see first-hand the crippling damage that smoking can cause to people’s mouths and their teeth. 

Stats show that those with long-standing mental health conditions are almost twice as likely to smoke compared to the rest of the general population. Figures release last year by Public Health Wales showed a sharp rise in mouth cancer rates in Wales and we’ve previously highlighted this shocking fact.

Oral cancer incidence in Wales has gone up by a third in 10 years and smoking and alcohol are some of the key causes of this. 

The Welsh Cancer and Intelligence Services Unit have only started recording the stage of the cancer when it is diagnosed in recent years, and results are due to be published later on this year. Dentists tell us anecdotally that oral cancer is often only caught when it has reached stage 4 and this results in a much lower survival rate.

In conjunction with ASH Wales/Cymru, the Welsh Government has just relaunched it’s Tobacco Control Delivery Plan for Wales 2017-22, focusing on further reducing the number of the population who smoke regularly and stopping younger people from starting smoking. 

Smoking prevalence rates in wales have fallen to 19 per cent and the target for 2020 is 16 per cent. We’re pleased to see resources focused on a new campaign with a toolkit that includes workshops

Cancer accounts for nearly 7% of all NHS expenditure in Wales and in 2014-15 this amounted to £409 million – the fourth biggest spending area for NHS Wales. 

But we think more still needs to be done to develop a dedicated strategy for oral cancer in Wales and ensure effective messaging so that the public really understands the risks, and we agree that those with mental health conditions might need specifically tailored advice and support to help quit smoking, and in places, where they are likely to access them, such as mental health settings.

We’d like to see more research done on the impact of oral health conditions for those who are more vulnerable, including the homeless, those in care homes, and those with mental health conditions, as these groups are often harder to reach and treat, for a variety of reasons. 

We suspect there’s a lot of unmet need and people’s lives being cut short as a result. 

What can dentists do?

You can flag up with your patients the ‘Help me quit’ website, which includes resources, help and support in both Welsh and English. 

Each November, we encourage dentists to take part in Mouth Cancer Action Month, an initiative designed to raise awareness of the problem. Please take a look at their resources and consider taking part this year. 

And don’t forget to try out our oral cancer toolkit, developed in conjunction with Cancer Research UK – it’s designed to help dental professionals identify, diagnose and refer cases; it’s free and there’s a CPD quiz too.

Caroline Seddon

BDA Wales National Director​