Published Mon, 2010-11-01 15:04; updated 35 weeks ago.
Dr Nigel Carter BDS LDS (RCS) is Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, organisers of Mouth Cancer Action Month.
Here he gives an insight into how people can minimise their risk of developing mouth cancer and increase their chances of early detection.
What is mouth cancer?
Mouth cancer is a condition that can affect the lips, tongue, cheeks and throat. It kills one person every five hours in the UK and the number of new cases is rising faster than almost any other cancer.
Who does it affect?
One of the most frightening facts of mouth cancer is that it can affect anyone, at any time. Traditionally mouth cancer was considered to be an older man's condition, but recent years have seen more and more women and young people affected.
Fifty years ago mouth cancer was five times more common in men than women. Now it is only twice as common. In addition, while certain habits undoubtedly make you more likely to develop mouth cancer, research has found that one in four young people who develop the condition present none of the major risk factors. New research have linked chronic gum disease to mouth cancer, though these are early studies. Research has shown a link between human papilloma virus (HPV) and mouth cancer through oral sex which helps to explain the increase in mouth cancer cases in young people, particularly amongst men. In the last decade the number of people diagnosed with mouth cancer each year has risen by a staggering 41%.
What habits can make you more likely to develop mouth cancer?
Most cases of mouth cancer are linked to tobacco and alcohol use. Cigarette, cigar and pipe smoking are all common in the UK and can all significantly increase your chances of developing mouth cancer. However, traditional ethnic habits like chewing tobacco, betel quid, guthka and paan are just as dangerous - yet fewer people are aware of the risks associated with them. Drinking alcohol to excess is a major risk factor for mouth cancer and, what is worse; it actually works together with tobacco to increase your risk. Therefore if a person uses both tobacco and alcohol, they can increase their chances of developing the condition by up to 30 times. A poor diet is also a contributory factor to developing mouth cancer, so it is advisable for people to make sure they eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day as part of a healthy balanced diet.
What are the signs of mouth cancer?
Mouth cancer can appear in many different forms and can show up in any area of the mouth, tongue or lips. Look out for ulcers that haven't healed after three weeks, lumps or red or white patches in the mouth. All of these can be early signs of mouth cancer and, worryingly, all can be mistaken for something less serious. You should also be aware of any swelling below the neck or chin, any pain when chewing or swallowing or a feeling that you have something in your throat that cannot be swallowed. If you are concerned that you might have any of these symptoms it is a good idea to request a mouth cancer check from your dentist. As the campaign tagline goes: If In Doubt, Get Checked Out!
Are people aware of mouth cancer?
While awareness of cancer in general has increased rapidly in recent years we are still faced with the problem of a lack of awareness of mouth cancer. Around one in four people have never heard of the condition according to our surveys and less than half can name the risk factors correctly. If mouth cancer is detected early then the chances of a full recovery are good so it is vital that people are aware of what to look out for and how they can minimise their risk. Unfortunately, due to a lack of awareness many cases go unnoticed until it is too late.
The Foundation is proud to have increased our activities to launch Mouth Cancer Action Month for the first time. All previous campaigns have been week-long events. Action can be as simple as requesting a mouth cancer check-up from your dentist, examining your own mouth as part of your oral health routine or wearing a Blue Ribbon Badge distributed by the Foundation to surgeries and health centres across the country. The Blue Ribbon Badge Appeal provides an important tool for awareness, with the blue enamel pin badges representing the campaign. We hope the UK can support this campaign and help us take action against mouth cancer.
Content provided by and copyright of the British Dental Health Foundation, the UK’s leading oral health charity. The Foundation aims to serve the public interest by improving awareness of, and access to, the means of maintaining better oral health.