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What is mouth cancer?

There is plenty of talk about cancer these days and most people have heard of cancer affecting parts of the body such as the lungs or breasts. However, many people are still relatively unfamiliar with one particular cancer – and it is affecting thousands of people every year.

Mouth cancer or oral can appear in the mouth, where the disease can affect the lips, tongue, cheeks and throat. That’s why, every November, the British Dental Association organises a national campaign to raise awareness about this dangerous disease.

Mouth cancer in numbers

  • Mouth cancers are more common in people over 40, particularly men.
  • Mouth cancer is becoming more common in younger patients and in women.
  • There are more than 640,000 cases of mouth cancer diagnosed each year worldwide, making it is the eleventh most common cancer.
  • In the last year, 8,337 new cases of mouth cancer were diagnosed in the UK.
  • The number of new cases of mouth cancer is on the increase, and in the UK has increased by over half in the last decade alone.
  • Anyone can be affected by mouth cancer, whether they have their own teeth or not.

Preventing mouth cancer deaths

Every year, more than 2,300 people in the UK die from mouth cancer. Many of these deaths could be prevented if the cancer was diagnosed early enough. Unfortunately, statistics indicate that people with mouth cancer are currently more likely to die than those having cervical cancer or melanoma skin cancer.

What causes mouth cancer?

The single biggest causes of mouth cancer are tobacco and alcohol. In the UK, tobacco use is typically associated with smoking cigarettes, cigars and pipes. Alcohol increases the risk of mouth cancer, and the risk is increased even more if tobacco and alcohol are used together.

Another factor that can increase the risk of cancer of the lips is over-exposure to sunlight.

More recently, research has also linked mouth cancer to the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer and affects the skin that lines the moist areas of the body. HPV can be spread through oral sex, and research now suggests that HPV could soon rival smoking and drinking as one of the main causes of mouth cancer.

Practising safe sex and limiting the number of partners you have may help reduce your chances of getting HPV. Many people get HPV during their lives and for many this does not cause a problem.

There are now HPV vaccines for both girls and boys. Although they were developed to fight cervical cancer, it is likely that they will also help to reduce the rates of mouth cancer. These vaccines are given at age 12 to 13 before sexual activity starts.

Recognising the signs of mouth cancer

Mouth cancer can appear in different forms and can affect all parts of the mouth, tongue and lips. Mouth cancer can appear as a painless mouth ulcer that does not heal normally. A white or red patch in the mouth can also develop into a cancer.

It is important to get to know your mouth so that you are aware of any unusual lumps in your mouth or jaw area. Persistent hoarseness or sore areas that do not heal within 3 weeks are also warning signs and you should always arrange an examination by a dentist or doctor, even if you are not sure.

Early detection saves lives

If mouth cancer is diagnosed early, then the chances of treatment and recovery are good. Unfortunately, many people with mouth cancer go to their dentist or doctor too late.

Mouth cancer can often be spotted in its early stages by your dental team during a thorough mouth examination, who are trained to screen for it as part of your routine check-up.

To book a dental appointment now or to enquire about becoming a member, get in touch with the team at Oak Mount Dental Practice today. Call now on  0161 445 1211.

Posted by Oak Mount Dental Practice

Website last updated: June 2022

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