November sees the return of Mouth Cancer Action Month, a campaign which aims to encourage people to be “Mouthaware” by raising awareness of risk factors, signs and symptoms of mouth cancers. I was invited to the House of Commons for the official launch of this campaign by the Oral Health Foundation.
As a dental hygienist, a key aspect of my role is to reach out to patients and tell them about this disease which is rapidly on the rise. New cases of mouth cancer in the UK have now reached 8,337 in the last year. Two-thirds of mouth cancers occur in men and more than three in four are in those over 55. These numbers continue to rise while the disease claims more lives than cervical and testicular cancer combined.
An astonishing 90% of mouth cancer diagnoses are linked to lifestyle and risk factors. The biggest the risk factors that have been shown to play a part in contracting the disease are:
Smoking, chewing tobacco and smokeless tobacco: Tobacco transforms saliva into a dangerous mixture that can damage the cells in the mouth and can turn them cancerous.
Alcohol: Heavy drinkers and smokers are up to 30 times more at risk as alcohol helps absorb the tobacco into the mouth.
Diet: Research has suggested that in a healthy balanced diet, including five portions of fruit and vegetables, there is a significant risk reduction in developing mouth cancer.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV): This is a sexually transmitted virus which is increasingly being linked to mouth cancer.
While many cases are linked to lifestyle choices, it is important to remember that mouth cancer can affect anyone.
Mouth cancer can appear in several places – lips, tongue, gums, tonsils, cheeks, roof and floor of the mouth – and can have a devastating effect on a person’s life. It can impact breathing, eating, drinking and speaking, which can ultimately lead to nutritional deficiency, depression, low self-esteem and social isolation.
The best way to tackle cancers of the mouth is through early intervention, making this awareness campaign even more important. If mouth cancer is picked up early, treatment is more likely to be successful. Here are three signs and symptoms not to ignore:
Ulcers which do not heal in three weeks
Red and white patches in the mouth
Unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth or head and neck area
It is important that everyone regularly checks for changes in their mouth. This is something I do at the beginning of every appointment. By being “Mouthaware” and by spotting mouth cancer at the initial stages, we can give everyone the best possible chance of successful treatment.
If you have any concerns do not hesitate to make an appointment for a mouth cancer screening.
For more information or to donate and get involved in the campaign visit: www.mouthcancer.org.