Talking about cancer is never pleasant. But with an ageing population and longer life expectancy, the risk of suffering from cancer has increased in the UK from 1 in 3 to 1 in 2. Talking about mouth cancer and understanding the symptoms, causes and facts has never been more important.
Mouth Cancer Action Month is an important initiative, that takes place every year in November, where medical professionals, charities and a number of other organisations are work to raise awareness about the signs and symptoms of mouth cancer. With approximately 6,767 people in the UK diagnosed annually but at least 10% of the population admitting they have never heard of mouth cancer, now is the time to talk. This is a cancer that has grown by a third over the last decade. We cannot ignore it.
What is Mouth Cancer?
Mouth cancer is a disease that affects the lips, tongue, cheek and throat. Just as is the case with other cancers, such as breast and testicular, it is important to recognise what the symptoms are, regularly examine your mouth at home and see your dentist if you notice anything suspicious. Early detection of mouth cancer increases survival rates to 90% versus 50% for late diagnosis.
What causes Mouth Cancer?
Mouth cancer can be caused by genetics, with an increased risk as you get older. However, the fact is that 91% of mouth cancer diagnoses are actually linked to lifestyle. Here are the main causes of mouth cancer:
Smoking – although a quarter of people don’t think this is the case, smoking is actually the leading cause of mouth cancer. The tobacco in cigarettes is known to cause changes in the saliva. This can lead to the damage of cells, which in turn can cause them to become cancerous. Whether you smoke heavily or not, smoking can increase your risk of developing mouth cancer.
Alcohol – excessive drinking is the second biggest cause of mouth cancer in the UK, linked to over a third of cases in men and a fifth in women. Combine this with heavy smoking and you are 35 times more at risk.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) – people don’t like to talk about it but this sexually transmitted virus is another major cause of mouth cancer. While most sexually active people will get HPV at some time in their lives, when the HPV infection persists, it can cause abnormal tissue growth and other changes in cells which can lead to mouth cancer. Those with multiple sexual partners are at a higher risk.
Diet – poor diet can lead to a breakdown in oral mucosa in the mouth, which can cause cells to become cancerous. Research has shown that a healthy diet can reduce the risk of mouth cancer significantly.
Chewing tobacco – a common misconception is that chewing tobacco is safer than smoking, however, this cannot be further from the truth. Chewing tobacco products have a number of dangerous ingredients which can alter the environment in your mouth and cause cancer.
What are the symptoms of mouth cancer?
We encourage everyone to become familiar with the signs and symptoms of mouth cancer and regularly check your mouth to ensure it is healthy. Recognising the symptoms can help early detection and increase survival rates. The most common symptoms of mouth cancer are:
- Red or white patches in the mouth or throat
- Unusual lumps in the mouth
- Ulcers that do not heal
Although the following are not always an indication of mouth cancer, they are symptoms you should also be aware of:
- Pain in the mouth
- Difficulty and even pain when swallowing
- Bleeding or numbness in the mouth
- Difficulty moving your jaw
- Weight loss
How long should I wait before consulting my dentist or doctor?
You shouldn’t wait. If you notice the symptoms of mouth cancer, make an appointment for a mouth cancer screening straight away. A dentist will be able check your symptoms and advise on the best course of action. An even better option is to go for regular mouth cancer screenings, whether you notice symptoms or not.
How can I decrease my risk from mouth cancer?
The best way to decrease your risk is to avoid smoking, excessive alcohol, chewing tobacco and speak to a sexual health provider about how to avoid sexually transmitted viruses. A healthy diet will also improve your chances of avoiding cancer and many other illnesses.
Regularly examining your mouth for symptoms, as well as booking regular mouth cancer screenings will also help.
How can Oris help?
As a preventive dental clinic, Oris Oral Health Centre is always here to provide information and improve education in the UK about mouth cancer. We offer mouth cancer screenings and can help reduce your risk with regular check-ups and early diagnosis. We offer holistic dentistry so can also advise you on how to lead a healthy life so you can reduce your risk from mouth cancer and other illnesses.
We welcome any questions you have about mouth cancer and encourage you to book a screening with us.
How can I raise awareness about mouth cancer?
Send this article to your friends and family and talk to others about the symptoms of mouth cancer. Do remember to tag us on our Facebook and Twitter pages.