Studies show that mouth cancer is on the increase and that early detection dramatically improves the chances of recovery. Late detection of mouth cancers has resulted in a higher proportion of deaths per number of cases than breast cancer, cervical cancer or skin melanoma, with about 2,700 deaths per year in the UK.
It is recommended that you come in for a screening on a yearly basis. If you have any sores, lumps or long-term ulcers in your mouth, no matter how small, it is very important that you come in to have it looked at. Because smoking is strongly linked with many forms of cancer and other dental problems, we always encourage our patients to quit smoking. An excellent source of information is the Mouth Cancer Foundation if you require any further information.
The term 'mouth cancer' ('oral cancer') is used to describe cancers that are found in the mouth, on the lips and in the throat. It is estimated that there are about 3,500 new cases of mouth cancer each year in the United Kingdom. Mouth cancers make up between 1 and 4 of every 100 UK cancers. In other parts of the world, such as the Indian subcontinent, mouth cancers make up about 4 of every 10.
Like a cancer in any other part of the body, mouth cancer impacts on quality of life and can cause death. It occurs with a similar frequency to cervical cancer and skin cancer and has a high death rate. A person has a 50/50 chance of surviving for more than five years following treatment. This is because many people do not become aware of a possible mouth cancer until it is well advanced.
The edges of the tongue are the most common sites for mouth cancer, followed by the floor of the mouth, and the gums towards the back of the lower jaw.
There are two major factors that increase the chances of getting mouth cancer. These are tobacco (either chewed or smoked) and alcohol use. 8 in every 10 cases are linked to a person using tobacco and alcohol together. The risk of mouth cancer is increased 35 times if you smoke more than 40 cigarettes and drink more than four units of alcohol daily.
Being in the sun a great deal is a major cause of lip cancer.
A diet that lacks the vitamins found in fresh fruit and vegetables is a risk for all cancers, including mouth cancer.
A thorough mouth examination by a dentist is recommended for everyone, ideally every six months. During this general review a cancer may be spotted. This examination should take place even if you have no teeth and wear a denture.
The dentist may ask about tobacco and alcohol use, and advise on stopping or reducing the amount. Stopping tobacco and alcohol use will not only help to prevent mouth cancer but also many other health conditions. The dentist can provide a clear explanation and answer any questions about mouth cancer including what treatment is available and how it is arranged.
If soreness or irritation in the mouth continues for about a month then a dentist should be consulted. If the dentist thinks you have mouth cancer he will refer you to a specialist unit. Further tests will be carried out in the specialist unit so that a clear diagnosis can be made.