As it was recently Mouth Cancer Action Month – November – we decided to write a post that gives you all the key information in just a five minute read.
We guarantee reading this will be five minutes well spent, showing: how to spot mouth cancer, how common it is, what the treatments are and what effect the cancer can have.
How Common Is Mouth Cancer?
In 2017, there were 8,302 reported cases of mouth cancer, this an increase of 49% inside a decade and 135% compared to 20 years ago (although better diagnosis will play a part in the increase).
On an individual level, women have a 1 in 150 lifetime risk of mouth cancer, while for men the risk is 1 in 75.
However, the likelihood is not uniform. As well as gender, age and lifestyle also greatly affect your risk of contracting mouth cancer. More than three-quarters of all cases are in people over the age of 55.
What Increases My Risk of Mouth Cancer?
The best advice is simply that living healthily greatly reduces your risk.
Smoking and drinking alcohol regularly have a huge impact – in fact someone who both smokes heavily and regularly consumes more than 10 units of alcohol per week has 30 times the risk of developing mouth cancer than a non-smoker who drinks only in moderation.
Drinking more than 10 units of alcohol regularly without smoking comes close to doubling the risk of mouth cancer, while smoking without heavy drinking has a similar level of impact.
The high impact of smoking and drinking could contribute to why men have double the incidence rate of women.
Anything that leads to suboptimal oral hygiene would increase the risk of cavities and so also the associated risk of mouth cancer developing – that could be poor cleaning or diets high in sugar and low in healthier foods.
Simply eating and drinking healthily and maintaining good oral hygiene (and quitting smoking) can greatly reduce anyone’s chances of being affected.
How Serious Is Mouth Cancer?
As with most cancers, it is likely to be more serious the later it is spotted and also where exactly in the mouth the cancer strikes.
Perhaps the most striking statistic is that with early diagnosis, there is a 90% chance of survival but with late diagnosis, this falls to just a 50/50 chance.
Yes, other factors like the exact type of cancer play a part and where in the mouth the cancer is found, but the absolute key is that early diagnosis can greatly increase the chances of survival.
What Are the Symptoms Of Mouth Cancer?
If you don’t know the symptoms of mouth cancer you are in good company – around a quarter cannot name any symptoms and three quarters cannot identify all the major signs.
There are five main things to look for or be aware of in relation to mouth cancer.
If you have ongoing pain in the mouth you should have it checked out. Similarly, mouth ulcers that refuse to go away and any lumps in the mouth, head or neck could be a symptom.
The final two symptoms are to look for white or red patches in the mouth.
Very few people also know that mouth cancer can be found on the tongue, or that lumps in the head or neck would be a concern.
Anything that is a concern or strikes you as unusual or painful should be checked out, after all, even if the problem is not a sign of mouth cancer it might still be a problem that is affecting oral hygiene and could lead to problems such as cavities or gum disease.
How Can I Check for Mouth Cancer?
Checking at home is a great first step, looking for any of the five symptoms mentioned above, be that pain, patches, lumps or ulcers that do not go away (see here for a guide).
However, many people still do not feel confident checking, perhaps unsure what exactly would constitute a red patch, or how long an ulcer needs to remain for it to become a genuine concern?
A recent survey found that 63% of adults would go to see their GP if they had concerns, yet only 28% would arrange to see a dentist.
We believe that figure needs to increase greatly, seeing the dentist is perhaps the best way to check for signs of mouth cancer.
A dentist will be checking for signs of mouth cancer during any thorough examination and so your routine check-up is much more than just a chance to get your teeth checked and polished, it is also providing that first line of defence against mouth cancer.
Regular dental check-ups may ensure mouth cancer was caught at an early stage and so survival chances could be 90% and not potentially in the 50/50 category of late diagnosis.
A two-step strategy would be to carry out regular checks at home and to then seek professional advice for any concern but, on top of this, also having regular check-ups is a must.
What Are The Effects Of Ignoring the Signs
A failure to spot the early signs of mouth cancer could be fatal, but even in less severe cases, the impact could be life-changing.
As part of Mouth Cancer Action Month, the Oral Health Foundation collected some stories from those who have been affected by mouth cancer and the story of Paul, a 56-year-old psychotherapist, is pertinent.
Paul left it late to get concerns checked out, finally acting after finding blood in his mouth while on holiday. The failure to act was to have life-changing consequences as the cancer had spread to an extent that required parts of his tongue to be surgically removed.
“I knew something was wrong a few years ago and I just waited and waited,” Paul says.
“Had I gone years earlier when I should have, I reckon I would have more of my tongue to hold on to. If you have any doubts, go and see your dentist, please, today.”
Book Your Check-Up
If you are one of those people who go without regular check-ups, please reconsider and get a thorough check-up booked in.
At least you will leave with peace of mind (and any minor issues corrected) – knowing that your mouth has been checked for the signs of cancer.
To see oral mucosal abnormalities that might otherwise have been overlooked, our practice uses the latest technology – we use the VELscope system, a wireless, handheld scope that uses natural tissue fluorescence visualisation which takes just a few minutes to use and is non-invasive.