Mouth Cancer Action Month aims to raise awareness of a disease which has been on the increase over the past 10 years
This November is Mouth Cancer Action Month which will see the Mouth Cancer Foundation and the Oral Health Foundation work to increase awareness of the disease and raise money to fund greater research and education. Devastatingly, one person every three hours dies from mouth cancer – that’s more each year than from cervical and testicular cancer combined.
Mouth cancer, also known as oral cancer, describes one of the areas where head and neck cancers can occur and includes various kinds of tumours affecting the lips, salivary glands, tongue, gums, palate and inside of the cheeks. Cancers further back around the root of the tongue, soft palate, tonsils and the upper part of the throat (the pharynx) are more properly called pharyngeal cancer.
Anyone can get mouth cancer, but the risk increases with age. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 66 and 70.
The seriousness of the disease depends on the type of mouth cancer, how big it is, if it has spread, and your general health. It can grow and spread very quickly so it is essential that you see a GP or dentist as soon as possible if you think you may have any of the signs and symptoms.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
When looking for signs and symptoms, remember the mouth is prone to all sorts of damage so don’t panic if you spot any of the following. We bite ourselves, burn ourselves with hot food and drink and damage the inside of our mouths with spicy foods or scrape it with hard things. Bleeding gums and loose teeth are commonly caused by gum disease. Many people are prone to mouth ulcers (never lasting more than three weeks).
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR
- Ulcers that do not heal within three weeks.
- Pain or discomfort in the mouth.
- Lumps and swellings with no obvious cause in the mouth or neck.
- Bleeding from the mouth or throat.
- Red or white patches inside the mouth.
- Changes in texture – hardness, roughness.
- Teeth that become loose.
- Difficulty or pain with swallowing, chewing or moving the jaw.
- Persistent hoarseness or changes to the voice.
- Persistent coughing or the feeling that something is ‘stuck’ in the throat.
- Numbness or tingling of the lips or tongue.
- Unexplained weight loss.
It’s not always clear what causes mouth cancer, but the risks increase if you smoke or chew tobacco, betel nut or paan, drink a lot of alcohol, have leukoplakia, have been exposed to a lot of sunlight or sunbeds, which can cause skin cancer affecting the lips, you’ve had cancer before, you have a weakened immune system or take immunosuppressant medicine. Mouth cancer has also been linked to having changes in your genes and some types of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection in your mouth.
LOWER THE RISK
You cannot always prevent mouth cancer, but there are things you can do to lower your chance of getting it:
- Eat a healthy diet, including five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
- Exercise regularly.
- Try to cut down on alcohol and avoid drinking more than 14 units a week.
- Try to quit smoking.
- Try to quit chewing tobacco, betel nut or paan.
FACTS AND FIGURES
• More than 8,800 people in the UK were diagnosed with mouth cancer last year.
• Last year 3,034 people in the UK lost their life to mouth cancer.
• Mouth cancer is twice as common in men than women, though an increasing number of women are being diagnosed with the disease.
• 58 per cent of mouth cancers appear on the tongue and tonsils.
• 78 per cent of cases occur in the over 55 age group.
• The incidence of mouth cancer has risen by 49 per cent over the past 10 years.
• More people in the UK die each year of mouth cancer than of cervical and testicular cancer combined.
• Mouth cancer causes more deaths in the UK each year than road traffic accidents.