Mouth cancer is a growing problem in the UK, and as November is Mouth Cancer Action Month, what better time to share everything you need to know about the disease and how you could save someone’s life from it.
With cases of mouth cancer rising year-on-year, more people than ever before are having to face the effects of this destructive and terrible disease.
CEO of the Oral Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, shares what you need to know about mouth cancer.
What is mouth cancer?
Quite simply, it is cancer that occurs in or around the mouth. It can happen anywhere in the oral cavity such as the gums and tongue, or be more widespread like inside the throat, on the neck, or even the lips. Most of us have heard of cancer affecting parts of the body such as the lungs or breasts, but very little is heard about mouth cancer. It’s a disease which often goes under the radar which is why very few of us know what we need to be looking out for.
Mouth cancer symptoms
There are many initial signs of mouth cancer that everybody should be aware of and should be checking for regularly. The most common symptoms of mouth cancer include an ulcer which does not heal within a couple of weeks, these don’t have to be painful and can appear anywhere in the mouth or on the lips. We should also be on the lookout for any unusual red or white patches in our mouth, again this can be anywhere so we should check the roof, under the tongue and inside of the cheeks for anything which does not seem quite right. Like many other cancers, mouth cancer can also cause lumps to form, so any unusual lumps or bumps in the head or neck need to get checked out straight away by your dentist or doctor.
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Causes of mouth cancer
The health implications of smoking are well documented, but mouth cancer often gets overlooked. Most mouth cancer cases globally continue to be as result of smoking and tobacco use, including smokeless tobacco, and it accounts for roughly two in every three mouth cancer cases in the UK. Drinking alcohol to excess is another major risk factor linked with mouth cancer – associated with around a third of cases. There is also a huge danger to those who smoke and drink alcohol to excess, they increase their risk of mouth cancer by up to a whopping 30 times. One trend that we have seen lately is a rise in cases linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is transmitted through oral sex. HPV, which also causes cervical cancer, is very common and almost every sexually active person will get it at some time in their lives but most people with HPV never develop health problems. But for some unfortunate people, it can cause abnormal tissue growth and cancers.
Early signs of mouth cancer
Time is key when it comes to mouth cancer, if you believe you or someone close to you has any symptom that could be related to the disease you should get it checked out by your dentist or doctor straight away, do not under any circumstance leave it to see if it will go away by itself.
Mouth cancer survival rates
Like previously mentioned time is key when it comes to beating mouth cancer. If your symptoms are picked up early enough, then the treatment and surgery is relatively straight forward and your chances of beating the disease are about 90%. But unfortunately, far too many cases are picked up late as people are unable to recognise the initial symptoms or even think they are at risk. If this is the case then the cancer may have spread to other areas, such as the lymph nodes, which makes it increasingly hard to treat. The chances of beating mouth cancer if this is the case is about 50%, but due to the extent of the treatment it can even then leave you with problems which you may currently take for granted, such as breathing, eating, drinking and even communicating.
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Mouth cancer facts you need to know
- In the UK, one person is told they have mouth cancer every 45 minutes. This is almost than eleven and a half thousand people every year.
- Mouth cancer claims more than twice as many lives than testicular and cervical cancer combined.
- Mouth cancer takes more lives every year than road traffic accidents on Britain’s roads.
- Mouth cancer is diagnosed in more than twice as many men than women but there are more cases in women than ever before.
- Shockingly, one in ten people has never heard of mouth cancer.
- Cases of mouth cancer have increased by more than a third in the last decade alone.
- Survival rates based on a late diagnosis are as little as 50% but chances of survival drastically increase with an early diagnosis to 90%.
- Scotland has more cases per capita than in England, Northern Ireland or Wales.
- Mouth cancer is one of the very few cancers which incidences are actually predicted to increase in the future.
- Smoking is the leading cause of mouth cancer.
- But HPV is predicted to overtake it as the leading cause of mouth cancer within the next decade. HPV is predominantly transmitted through oral sex. Extending the HPV vaccine to include boys of a school age will save thousands of lives.
- Excessive use of alcohol is linked to more than a third of mouth cancer cases in men and a fifth in women.
- Heavy drinkers and smokers are up to 35 times more at risk.
- Mouth cancer can often be spotted in its early stages by your dentist during a thorough mouth examination.
- As part of every checkup, your dentist should carry out a visual examination to look for the early signs of mouth cancer.
- Signs and symptoms of mouth cancer include ulcers which do not heal within a three weeks, red or white patches and any unusual lumps or swellings.
- If in doubt you should get checked out by your dentist or doctor as soon as possible.