One of Glasgow's biggest hidden killers has doubled the number of victims in the last 20 years.

Scotland has the highest rate of mouth cancer anywhere the UK, with more than 700 people diagnosed annually.

It has one of the country's fastest-growing rates of all cancers.

In the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde area there were 137 cases of oral cavity cancer diagnosed in 2010, compared with 102 cases in 2000 and 74 cases in 1990.

There were 44 deaths from mouth cancer in the NHSGGC area in 2011, compared with 46 deaths from skin cancer.

Mouth cancers kill more people each year than cervical cancer and testicular cancer combined.

Scotland's rates of smoking, alcohol drinking, and poor diet are all risk factors but new technology is being used to spot early signs of the disease.

Glasgow dentist Dr Attiq Rahman is using cutting-edge technology to detect early signs of oral cancer.

He said oral cancer can prove deadly because it can spread before any symptoms are noticeable.

He said: "Secondary lesions or metastases tend to spread rapidly and they can be quite distant from the primary site of the abnormality.

"With other signs of cancer, there are early symptoms that are unmistakable. With mouth cancer, the tissue can look normal for quite some time.

"By the time it looks quite obviously abnormal, then it can be too late."

Dr Rahman has become the first dentist in the west of Scotland to introduce screening with a VELscope device.

The £2800 hand-held monitor is part of his consultations at the Visage Lifestyle Clinic on Miller Street, in the city centre.

The non-invasive device emits a blue light that picks up areas of concern that aren't visible to the naked eye.

The 41-year-old practice director, who lives in Blantyre, said: "Mouth cancer isn't on anybody's radar. They're not aware of the prevalence of it, they're not aware of the consequences of it.

"When you tell patients all about it, they're really quite shocked as to why they didn't know about it before.

"There's a lot of coverage about breast cancer and prostate cancer, but nothing about oral cancer."

Dr Rahman, who graduated from Glasgow University in 1994, said: "Normal tissue under the VELscope light fluoresces – it looks light in colour.

"Any tissue that is abnormal, or any abnormal cells within that tissue, don't fluoresce, so it looks like a darkened area.

"You don't see that under white light."

The device will also pick up on infections that might not otherwise be apparent.

Dr Rahman added: "If there are areas of infection, then the actual bacteria themselves glow an orange colour, which is quite strange to see.

"Where we see that usually is with people who have a cheek-biting habit – usually the tissue is broken and there are areas of infection within the lesion itself."

It takes only a few minutes to perform the check, which could potentially prove life-saving.

Any patients who show areas of concern will be referred immediately for a biopsy.

Dr Rahman said: "There are various risk factors – smoking, alcohol etc. This is not a diagnostic tool, but it's an early warning system."

The British Dental Health Foundation estimates that, over the next decade, around 60,000 people in the UK will be diagnosed with mouth cancer and, without early detection, an estimated 30,000 will die.

Early warning signs include ulcers that do not heal within three weeks, red, white or dark patches, unusual lumps and bumps in the mouth, or swellings and numbness of the tongue.

Scotland has 11.9 cases of the disease per 100,000 people, compared with 8.1 cases per 100,000 in England.

While the disease was historically found in older people, its prevalence among younger people is growing, with one in 10 cases now being found in the under-45 age group.

Men were once five times more likely to develop mouth cancer – now they are just twice as likely.

Certain strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV), transmitted via oral sex, are thought to contribute to the growing prevalence of mouth cancer.

Cancer Research UK has called upon dentists to help curb rising rates of oral cancer by asking patients about lifestyle risk factors such as smoking, drinking and sexual behaviour.

A spokeswoman for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said: "In Scotland more than 500 people every year are diagnosed with oral cancer.

Smoking and alcohol are two of the main risk factors.

"Early detection can save lives and the key message is to attend routine dental check-ups or contact your GP or dentist. Mouth cancer can occur on the tongue, gums, lips, cheeks and the floor or roof of your mouth.

"Regular dental attendance allows dentists to examine the soft tissues of the mouth and spot warning signs.

"Once diagnosed, treatment options vary, smaller tumours may only require removal by surgery, or radiotherapy, but more advanced cases may require more extensive surgery and a combination of treatments including surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy."


n Evening Times readers can register at Visage Lifestyle Clinic for a complimentary oral cancer screening until Saturday, February 9. To book an appointment, call 0800 040 7700 quoting 'Evening Times'

HEALTH chiefs are out to make Glasgow's smiles better through a series of initiatives to improve oral health.

A £15 million programme 'Childsmile' was rolled out across Scotland as part of a plan to promote the importance of brushing teeth properly.

Some 900 centres across Scotland are delivering the Childsmile programme, which delivers a range of preventative care interventions for P1 and P2 children to reduce the risk of tooth decay.

Other measures, targeted at the most deprived areas, involved putting fluoride varnish on children's teeth to help prevent decay.

In 2010, dental chiefs at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde welcomed statistics showing that the majority of Glasgow's youngsters have no tooth decay as the most significant improvement in oral health since the introduction of fluoride toothpaste in the 1950s.

The Glasgow Community Champion Award-winning Gladiator Programme visits nursery and primary schools across Greater Glasgow to teach youngsters about the importance of oral hygiene and making regular visits to the dentist.

The Glasgow Dental Hospital on Sauchiehall Street recently underwent a £2.5m makeover, with Glasgow University's 450 dental students taught in a modern, multi-media facility.

As well as mouth cancer, poor oral health has also been linked to strokes, heart disease, meningitis and pneumonia.