Alcohol is largely to blame for an "alarming" rise in the rate of oral cancers among men and women in their forties, say experts.
Numbers of cancers of the lip, mouth, tongue and throat in this age group have risen by 26% in the past decade.
Alcohol consumption has doubled since the 1950s and is the most likely culprit alongside smoking, says Cancer Research UK.
Each year in the UK around 1,800 people die from the disease.
There are 5,000 newly diagnosed cases per year.
Other risk factors that may be involved include a diet low in fruit and vegetables, and the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV), which also causes cervical cancer. FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME
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Figures produced by Cancer Research UK show that since the mid-1990s, rates of oral cancers have gone up by 28% for men in their forties and 24% for women.
The charity's health information manager Hazel Nunn said: "These latest figures are really alarming.
"Around three-quarters of oral cancers are thought to be caused by smoking and drinking alcohol.
"Tobacco is, by far, the main risk factor for oral cancer, so it's important that we keep encouraging people to give up and think about new ways to stop people taking it up in the first place. The trend we are now seeing is likely to be linked to Britain's continually rising drinking levels
Cancer Research UK
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"But for people in their 40s, it seems that other factors are also contributing to this jump in oral cancer rates.
"Alcohol consumption has doubled since the 1950s and the trend we are now seeing is likely to be linked to Britain's continually rising drinking levels."
Oral cancer can be treated successfully if diagnosed early enough.
The most common signs of the disease are ulcers, sores, or red or white patches in the mouth that last longer than three weeks, together with unexplained pain in the mouth or ear.
Alcohol Concern chief executive Don Shenker said: "Many people are not aware of the connection between alcohol and cancer, yet as this research shows, it can be a major contributor or cause of the disease.
"While alcoholic liver disease remains the number one killer linked to alcohol, more and more people are suffering from oral cancers - and record drinking levels have undeniably played a part."
He said it was time to introduce tobacco-style health warnings on alcohol.
"It's a consumer issue - people have a right to know the full range of health risks associated with drinking alcohol above recommended guidelines.
"This research will hopefully help people realise the full extent of the damage that alcohol can do, then they're better placed to make informed decisions about how much they drink."
Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians and chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: "These latest figures demonstrate once again that people are being struck down at ever younger ages with alcohol-related illnesses that they might never have previously associated with heavy drinking.
"There is an urgent need to rethink how we communicate the risks of misuse. The first step is to challenge the widespread notion that the only chronic health damage is suffered by a minority of older drinkers."
Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, said: "The really lethal cocktail is drinking strong spirits and smoking - a carcinogenic double whammy for the delicate lining of the mouth and throat. My advice is if you drink, don't smoke - and if you must smoke, avoid spirits."