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Being mouthaware – the rising threat of mouth cancer

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Dr Nigel Carter

Oral Health Foundation

Since the turn of the century, more than 40,000 people in the UK have lost their life to mouth cancer. Unless we start having difficult conversations, mouth cancer will continue to have a devastating effect on more lives.


It’s a fact of life that sometimes, difficult conversations are necessary. We dodge them when we can, but occasionally, they could help us avoid getting into difficult situations.

One of the best examples of this is the dreaded ‘c’ word. Understandably a sensitive topic for many, and one we’d rather not spend much time discussing. However, in the case of mouth cancer, talking can actually be the answer.

The Oral Health Foundation’s latest ‘State of Mouth Cancer UK Report’ revealed that more than 8,300 people were diagnosed with mouth cancer last year. For context, this is a staggering 171% higher than a generation ago.

Over the last 20 years, mouth cancer awareness has been at the front of our charity’s work. Those who have beaten mouth cancer are often left with daily reminders about their experience.

Eating and drinking often becomes more difficult, as does speaking. Mouth cancer can be a cruel disease that can have a debilitating effect on a person’s life.

The best way we can stop the disease in its tracks is to know about the things that are likely to put us at risk.

Becoming mouth aware

The majority of mouth cancers are linked to lifestyle. These include smoking, drinking alcohol excessively and HPV (which is passed on through sexual contact).

The most effective thing we can do is cut down or avoid these and by doing so, we will reduce our risk.

Understanding our level of risk is really important – especially if our exposure is high. That’s why it’s important to know the early warning signs of the disease and to perform regular self-checks for mouth cancer.

Warning signs of mouth cancer

Keep an eye out for mouth ulcers that do not heal within three weeks, red or white patches in the mouth and unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth, head or neck.

Persistent hoarseness could also be a potential sign of mouth cancer. If you spot any of these or notice anything unusual, check checked out by your dentist or doctor as soon as possible.

Understanding our level of risk is really important – especially if our exposure is high. That’s why it’s important to know the early warning signs of the disease and to perform regular self-checks for mouth cancer.

The dentist is another important resource to call upon, not only for advice for preventing mouth cancer, but also helping to identify it.

During every routine dental check-up, they will give you a visual examination for mouth cancer. Dentistry is not only about making sure we have healthy teeth and gums; the overall health of our mouth is given a thorough inspection.

Mouth Cancer Action

Knowing everything we can about mouth cancer is vital. It’s all about being mouth aware. That’s what we are working to achieve through our Mouth Cancer Action campaign.

By sharing as much information about mouth cancer as possible and providing advice and support to those who need it, we can transform the landscape of the disease. This means less people being diagnosed with mouth cancer and fewer lives being lost to it.

Mouth cancer is a disease that puts our own voice at risk. By uniting together, learning more and talking about the disease, we can beat mouth cancer for good.

As an entirely self-funded charity, we greatly depend on your support to keep spreading vital messages about this deadly disease.

You can help us put a halt to the rising number of mouth cancer cases by donating to our Mouth Cancer Action Appeal here: www.dentalhealth.org/mouthcancerappeal.


For more information about mouth cancer, visit www.mouthcancer.org

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