November is Mouth Cancer Awareness month.
Mouth cancer is one of the UK’s fastest increasing cancers, with cases up by around 40% in the last decade. Many people have never heard of mouth cancer, yet it kills around 1700 people in the UK every year. It has a higher proportion of deaths per number of cases than breast, cervical and skin cancers. The chance of survival after five years is around 50% but can be nearer 80 – 90% if caught early. Sadly, these figures have not improved in the last 20 years.
While many cases are linked to lifestyle choices – smoking, drinking, poor diet and sexual activity – it is important to remember that mouth cancer could effect anybody. Mouth cancer can have a devastating effect on a person’s life effecting how they breathe, eat, drink and speak. Often this can lead to other problems such as nutritional deficiency and depression. Difficulties in communication, low self esteem, social isolation and the impact on relationships and career can cause as much distress as the cancer itself.
Mouth cancer is more commonly found in those over 40 years of age. However, an increasing number of young people, including those who’s lifestyles do not include the major high risk-factors, have been found to have the disease.
Mouth cancer is one of the simplest and quickest cancers to screen for. Dentists routinely provide oral cancer screening at your dental health examination appointments. They inspect the soft tissues of the mouth including the insides of the cheeks, the tongue, the floor and roof of the mouth. As dentists are doing this every day they have a good eye for anything unusual. They are looking for red or white patches, lumps, ulcers and sores. Most often it is possible to find an explanation for these areas but if necessary, the patient will be referred to a specialist at the hospital for further investigation.
The current recommendation is that it is important to attend the dentist at least yearly for screening. Those who wear dentures and have no natural teeth appear to be a lower risk but should still attend every two years for screening.
What can you do to reduce the risk?
Smoking is the leading cause of mouth cancer, see last month’s blog on finding help with quitting. With regards to chewing or smokeless tobacco, although some people believe this type of tobacco is safer, in reality it is much more dangerous. Betel nut, Pan Masala and Gutka are all types of this type of tobacco.
Excessive use is linked to more than a third of mouth cancer cases in men and a fifth in women. Heavy drinkers and smokers are up to 35 times more at risk, as alcohol aids the absorption of the tobacco into the mouth. This is why we ask you your smoking and drinking habits in your medical history questionnaires.
Human Papilloma Virus
A sexually transmitted virus which is increasingly being linked to mouth cancer. Experts suggest HPV may rival tobacco and alcohol as a leading risk factor within 10 years and those with multiple sexual partners are more at risk.
As with most cancers, a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables will reduce the risk. New research has suggested that there is a noticeable risk reduction for mouth cancer with each additional daily serving of fruit or vegetables.
Wear a lip salve with sunscreen to protect your lips as well as your suntan lotion when in the sun.
If you find any unusual lump in your mouth of neck, red or white patch, sores or ulcers that won’t heal, have them checked out by your dentist. Anything that persists for more than two weeks should be checked. Remember, it is important to catch cancer early! Your dentist will be pleased to help.
This month is Mouth Cancer Awareness month and as part of this campaign the practice will be offering free mouth cancer screenings to all patients whom ask for one. So if you haven’t been to see us for a while and are concerned about anything unusual in your mouth or neck please call for your 10 minute appointment and get it checked out.
For more information visit http://www.mouthcancerfoundation.org.