Around 7,800 new cases of mouth and oropharyngeal cancer are diagnosed in the UK every year. It’s one of the very few cancers predicted to become more prevalent over the coming years. This means sharing information about the risk factors, signs and symptoms is incredibly important.
What is mouth cancer?
Mouth cancer can affect your lips, cheeks, tongue and throat – and worryingly it’s on the rise. It’s most common in men aged over 40, but cases among women and younger individuals are growing at a higher rate.
The signs of mouth cancer
The signs of mouth cancer include any unusual lumps or swellings; white or red patches; or ulcers that don’t heal within three weeks.
If you have any of these symptoms, or there’s anything else you’re concerned about, it’s important to make an appointment to see your dentist as soon as you can.
They will examine your mouth and if necessary refer you to a consultant for a more comprehensive assessment and diagnosis.
If the condition is caught early the chances of a complete recovery are good. Unfortunately, lots of people don’t know what to look out for and don’t see their dentist for regular check-ups, so their diagnosis is delayed.
The causes of mouth cancer
Most mouth cancer cases are linked to lifestyle, so you can reduce your chances of developing the disease simply by avoiding the following risk factors.
Tobacco and alcohol are two of the biggest causes of mouth cancer; combined they become even more of a risk. Individuals who smoke and drink alcohol to excess increase their risk of mouth cancer by up to 30 times. Even second-hand smoke has been linked to mouth cancer.
Other risk factors include over exposure to sunlight, the human papilloma virus (HPV) and a poor diet.
Preventing mouth cancer
As well as avoiding these risk factors, you can reduce your chances of developing mouth cancer by looking after your overall health.
A good diet is essential for protecting your body against all types of cancer. Make sure you eat plenty of fruit, vegetables and foods that are high in vitamins A, C and E.
Your dentist should be checking your mouth for the signs of mouth cancer during your dental health checks. Make sure you see them every six months or as advised.
You should also get into the habit of checking yourself for mouth cancer between appointments. If you have any concerns, contact your dentist straight away.