Mouth cancer kills more people than cervical cancer and testicular cancer combined in the UK and yet the National Dental Survey 2007, conducted by the British Dental Health Foundation in association with HSA, found that knowledge of the condition is dangerously low.
Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, commented: "Smoking is the most common cause of mouth cancer, but alcohol is almost as dangerous – and the two together increase your risk by up to 30 times.
"It is a big worry that one in two people are completely unaware that alcohol is a risk factor for mouth cancer – especially as a significant proportion believes that you can catch it from kissing.
"Unfortunately it is becoming increasingly clear that people know very little about this condition."
The nationwide survey found that one in four people think mouth cancer is caused by spicy foods with a further one in six believing that hot drinks and kissing are responsible.
The survey results come in the run-up to Mouth Cancer Awareness Week (November 11-17) which will be launched at the House of Commons on November 8.
Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, commented: "Every five hours, someone in the UK dies as a result of mouth cancer – and the number of new cases is increasing all the time.
"Early detection increases survival chances from one in two to nine out of 10 so it is vital that people are aware of their mouths.
"Look out for any changes including ulcers that haven't healed after three weeks, lumps, or any red or white patches in the mouth. If you have any concerns then visit your dentist or doctor immediately.
"As the campaign headline goes: If in doubt, get checked out!"
The World Health Organisation has also lent its support to the event. Dr PE Petersen of the Oral Health Programme "Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion' said: "Mouth Cancer Awareness Week is a very important initiative. The prevention of oral cancer is a priority action area of the World Health Organisation programme."
For more information on mouth cancer visit the website www.mouthcancer.org. You can call the Dental Helpline on 0845 063 1188.
Dr Nigel Carter is chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, the UK charity that coordinates Mouth Cancer Awareness Week.