This November is Mouth Cancer Action Month.
Each year, more than 7,800 people are diagnosed with mouth cancer. This number is predicted to increase, one of the few cancers that are actually on the rise. Globally, there are over 300,000 new cases of mouth cancer (also known as oral cancer) each year. It is the sixth most common cancer in the world.
Over 90% of cases of mouth cancer are preventable.
Mouth Cancer Action Month is taking place across the UK, with activities and information events taking place throughout November to help raise awareness and educate people on mouth cancer, highlighting the importance of early detection and prevention. Victoria Road Dental Clinic is proud to support Mouth Cancer Action Month.
What is Mouth Cancer?
Mouth cancer describes cancer that affects any part of the mouth. This includes lips, gums, tongue, the inner cheek lining, the roof and floor of the mouth. Tumours can develop anywhere on or inside the mouth. The most common type of mouth cancer is squamous cell carcinoma, accounting for 90% of cases, according to the NHS.
Symptoms of Mouth Cancer
Common symptoms of mouth cancer include:
- Sores that don’t heal after two weeks
- Bleeding sores
- Lumps, growths or thickening of the skin or lining of your mouth
- Loose teeth
- Tongue pain
- Stiff or painful jaw
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
- A sore throat
If any of these symptoms are discovered and persist for more than two weeks, you should book an appointment with your dentist or GP as soon as possible.
Below we answer some commonly asked questions about mouth cancer.
Is Mouth Cancer Painful?
Mouth cancer symptoms can be quite painful. If you are experiencing jaw or tongue pain that persists for several weeks, this could be a symptom of mouth cancer. Additionally, you may discover sores in your mouth or on your lips that are painful and may bleed. If these do not heal after two weeks, you should visit your dentist or GP. A persistent sore throat is another symptom.
Is Mouth Cancer Genetic?
According to Cancer Research, there is a slight increase in the risk of developing mouth cancer if you have a close relative who has had it. Certain genetic conditions such as fanconi anaemia or dyskeratosis congenita carry a higher risk for oral cancer. If you know that you are affected by either of these genetic disorders, it is important to schedule regular check-ups to ensure early detection of possible oral cancer.
Is Mouth Cancer Caused By Smoking?
Tobacco use is the single largest contributing cause of mouth cancer. Over 90% of people with mouth cancer use tobacco, mainly through cigarette smoking, according to research. Smokers are six times more likely to develop mouth cancer than non-smokers.
For patients who stop smoking, the likelihood of recurrence of mouth cancer is only 6%, while for those who continue to smoke, there is a 37% chance of developing a secondary cancer. Therefore, stopping smoking at any time, even after many years of heavy smoking, can still help reduce your risk of mouth cancer.
Alcohol also increases your risk of mouth cancer, with those who smoke and drink facing a 15 times greater risk than those are teetotal or who limit their drinking.
Other risk factors include a weakened immune system, the HPV virus and increased sun exposure to lips.
Can Mouth Cancer Be Treated?
There are different options available for treating mouth cancer, depending on the stage of the cancer and the patient’s overall health. Once a patient is diagnosed, the GP will recommend a course of treatment appropriate to the stage and scale of the cancer.
How Is Mouth Cancer Treated?
Surgery – Surgery to remove the tumour completely may be undertaken. Skin that has been removed from the patient’s mouth during surgery can be replaced with skin grafts from other parts of the body. If the tongue is affected, parts of it may need to be removed. The same goes for the jaw. If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the neck, or is at risk of doing so, the lymph nodes may need to be removed. Following surgery to remove tumours, facial reconstruction surgery may need to take place to allow you to eat, talk and breathe normally.
Radiotherapy – Radiation therapy uses high energy beams to kill cancer cells. This is commonly used in cancers that are in the early stages or following surgery. Side effects include mouth ulcers, sore red skin that feels sunburned, dry mouth, nausea, tiredness, and loss of appetite.
Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy uses chemicals to kill cancer cells and is usually used when the cancer is more widespread or if it is likely to return. Chemotherapy damages tissue and does not currently differentiate between healthy and diseased tissue, contributing to side effects such as sickness, hair loss, kidney issues, mouth ulcers and fatigue.
Patients may receive only one of these treatments or a combination, depending on the size, spread and stage of the cancer, as well as their general health.
Can Mouth Cancer Be Cured?
The survival rate for mouth cancer depends on several factors. According to Cancer Research UK, for Stage 1 and 2 mouth cancer, over 80% of men and women survive for three years or more, following diagnosis. For Stage 3 and 4 mouth cancer, the three-year survival rate is almost 50%. This is why it is so important that mouth cancer is detected early, to give those affected a greater chance of survival.
How to Prevent Mouth Cancer?
Mouth cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer. Cancer Research reports that over 90% of cases of mouth cancer are in fact preventable. The two leading causes of mouth cancer in the UK are smoking and alcohol. Cutting out these two or avoiding them altogether can significantly reduce your risk of developing mouth cancer. In addition, things like a poor diet can increase your risk, so eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help lower the risk.
It is important to remember, however, that cancer can affect anyone. So even if you do not smoke tobacco or drink excessively, you could still develop mouth cancer. Therefore, keeping an eye on your oral health and any changes is still vital.
Catch it Early
As with all cancers, catching mouth cancer early can be the difference between life and death. Seeing your dentist regularly can ensure early signs are spotted before they are able to develop and spread, allowing less invasive treatments to be used.
Additionally, the Mouth Cancer Foundation has produced some helpful information on how to check your mouth for signs of mouth cancer. Complete their DIY check regularly to spot any potential areas of concern to discuss with your dentist or GP.
Ultimately, the key to reducing your risk of mouth cancer is prevention through avoiding smoking and excessive drinking, while maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle and keeping a close eye on your oral health for any changes. Visiting your dentist regularly is the best way to catch signs of mouth cancer early on. Book an appointment with your dentist today.
Victoria Road Dental Clinic is proud to be supporting Mouth Cancer Action Month. To book an appointment, call us on 01895 636 121.
Dipesh Patel is the content writer for Victoria Road Dental Clinic and updates our blog regularly with helpful advice and new information.