Mouth and throat cancer

Mouth cancerFind out more about mouth and throat cancer, including how common it is and ways to reduce your risk

How common is mouth and throat cancer?

Mouth and throat cancer, also known as mouth, pharynx and larynx or MPL cancer, is the eighth most common cancer in the UK. In 2017, 11,336 new cases were diagnosed*.

What is mouth and throat cancer?

Mouth and throat cancer refers to cancers of the tongue, lips, gums, tonsils, lining of the mouth and the upper part of the throat.

The throat, also known as the pharynx, leads down from the nose and mouth to the voicebox, also known as the larynx. Cancer of the throat is also known as pharyngeal cancer. Cancer of the voicebox is also known as laryngeal cancer.

Mouth and throat cancers are caused by damaged cells, which can grow uncontrollably to form a tumour. When you use tobacco or drink alcohol, your mouth and throat are directly exposed to cancer-causing substances (carcinogens).

Alcohol may also function as a solvent to help other dietary or environmental carcinogens (for example tobacco) enter cells.

Who is most at risk of mouth and throat cancer?

As with all cancers, the risk of developing mouth and throat cancer depends on a number of factors and varies from person to person.

Lifestyle risk factors

> Smoking
> Drinking alcohol
> Being overweight or obese

While drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco are both independent causes, the risk of mouth and throat cancer is greater if you smoke AND drink alcohol.

Other risk factors

  • Age – risk increases as you get older
  • Gender – mouth and throat cancer is three times more common in men than in women (may in part be related to higher rates of smoking in men)
  • Infection with human papilloma virus (HPV) increases the risk of mouth and throat cancer
  • Exposure to asbestos may increase the risk of laryngeal cancer

How can you reduce your risk of mouth and throat and cancer?

These three steps are based on research from our Continuous Update Project (CUP).

1. Do not smoke or use tobacco

This is the most important step you can take to reduce your risk of mouth and throat cancer. Tobacco use (including smokeless tobacco, sometimes called ‘chewing tobacco’ or ‘snuff’) are known causes of mouth and throat cancer. The risk increases with the amount and the length of time of use. If you do smoke, the NHS stop smoking service can help you quit.

2. Don’t drink alcohol

There is strong scientific evidence that alcohol is a cause of mouth and throat cancer. Find out more about the link between alcohol and cancer or find out how many calories are in alcoholic drinks by using our alcohol calorie calculator. You can also browse our Real Recipes for some inspirational mocktail ideas.

3. Be a healthy weight

Being overweight or obese is a cause of mouth and throat cancer. Try our body mass index calculator to check if you’re a healthy weight for your height.

> Visit NHS Choices to find out about the symptoms and treatment of mouth and throat cancer

*Cancer statistics based on combined data from EnglandScotlandNorthern Ireland and Wales. World Cancer Research Fund, 2020.