What is Mouth Cancer?
Mouth Cancer Awareness Month falls each year in November. At The Priors Dental Practice we check for early signs of Mouth Cancer as part of our routine dental examinations. Mark Emms, Practice Owner and Principal dentist, has diagnosed at least 10 cases of mouth cancer over his 30 years of practicing dentistry.
If your dentist finds something unusual during your routine check, they will refer you to a consultant at the local hospital, who will carry out a thorough examination of your mouth and throat and conduct further tests if necessary. Many people with mouth cancer go to their dentist or doctor too late, but if mouth cancer is recognised early, the treatment can be simple and quick rather than life changing and complex, and therefore the chances of a cure are good.
The disease can affect the lips, tongue, cheeks and throat. Mouth cancers are more common in people over 40, particularly men. However, research has shown that mouth cancer is becoming more common in younger patients and in women. In the last year more than 6,767 people have been diagnosed with mouth cancer in the UK – an increase of more than a third compared to a decade ago.
Sadly, more than 1,800 people in the UK lose their life to mouth cancer every year. Many of these deaths could be prevented if the cancer was caught early enough. As it is, people with mouth cancer are more likely to die than those having cervical cancer or melanoma skin cancer.
What can cause mouth cancer?
Most cases of mouth cancer are linked to tobacco and alcohol, and if tobacco and alcohol are consumed together the risk is even greater. Over-exposure to sunlight can also increase the risk of cancer of the lips. Many recent reports have linked mouth cancer to the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the major cause of cervical cancer and affects the skin that lines the moist areas of the body.
What are the signs of mouth cancer?
Mouth cancer can appear in different forms and can affect all parts of the mouth, tongue and lips. Mouth cancer can appear as a painless mouth ulcer that does not heal normally. A white or red patch in the mouth can also develop into a cancer, as can any unusual lumps or swellings.
How can I keep my mouth healthy?
Be mouth aware. Visit your dentist regularly, even if you wear dentures. When brushing your teeth, look out for any changes in your mouth, and report any red or white patches, or ulcers, that have not cleared up within three weeks to your dentist. When exposed to the sun, be sure to use a good protective sun cream, and put the correct type of barrier cream on your lips.
A good diet, rich in vitamins A, C and E, provides protection against the development of mouth cancer. Plenty of fruit and vegetables help the body to protect itself, in general, from most cancers. Cut down on your smoking and drinking, and be sure to let us know as soon as possible if you have any concerns.
Source: British Dental Health Foundation 2016 (Mouth Cancer Awareness)