Mouth Cancer Action Month: Early signs, causes, and treatments

This November, it’s Mouth Cancer Action Month. So we thought it would be a great time to help raise awareness for mouth cancer in the UK, as this type of cancer is something many people don’t know about.

The Mouth Cancer Action campaign is striving to make a difference in people’s lives by raising awareness of mouth cancer and encouraging conversations around the topic.

Whether it’s helping to prevent the disease, catching it early, or providing support to those who have undergone treatment, it’s pivotal that we all show our support to those who need it most.

In this blog, we’re going to explore the statistics behind mouth cancer, what the risk factors and common causes are, signs to look out for, and how to prevent it.

How common is mouth cancer?

If you don’t know of anyone diagnosed with mouth cancer, you might be wondering how common this type of cancer is. Let’s look at these mouth cancer statistics below to give you an indication.

Mouth cancer affects 50% more men than women (Gov.uk)
The peak age for mouth cancer diagnosis is 66-70 (Gov.uk)
In 2022, there were 8.8K cases of mouth cancer in the UK (DentalHealth)
Almost 60% of mouth cancer affects the tongue or tonsils (DentalHealth)
In 2021, around 3K people died from mouth cancer in the UK (DentalHealth)
Mouth cancer rates have increased 49% in the last decade (Mouth Cancer Foundation)
More people die from mouth cancer than UK road accidents (Mouth Cancer Foundation)

The common causes of mouth cancer

Medical professionals believe that the two main causes of mouth cancer in the UK are drinking too much alcohol and smoking (the risks are higher with both combined). This is because both of these substances can affect DNA cells as they are carcinogenic.

Other risk factors include too much sun exposure to the lips, a weak immune system, and infection of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus. A poor diet and poor oral health are other risk factors.

According to the Mouth Cancer Foundation, however, 24% of mouth cancer cases have no associated significant risk factor. This makes it even more important that you know how to recognise the symptoms of mouth cancer to catch and treat it early.

Mouth cancer symptoms

According to the National Health Service (NHS), almost 8,300 people are diagnosed with mouth cancer annually in the UK. This figure accounts for 1 out of every 50 cancers that are diagnosed.

And while knowledge about mouth cancer has improved over the years, many cases are still not caught early enough. This is why the average 5-year survival rate has not increased over the past decade (Mouth Cancer Foundation).

According to the NHS, here are the most common mouth cancer symptoms to watch out for. If you have any of these symptoms and they don’t go away for three weeks, it’s time to book an appointment with your dentist or GP for a check-up.

  • Painful mouth ulcers that don’t go away for weeks
  • Lumps in the neck or mouth that don’t dissipate
  • Teeth that feel loose or wobbly
  • Tooth sockets that don’t heal after an extraction
  • A feeling of numbness on the lips or tongue
  • White/red patches inside the mouth/on the tongue
  • Speech alterations, like a lisp or stutter

How to check for mouth cancer

You can easily check for mouth cancer at home, with the assessment taking no more than a minute. To look for anything unusual, such as lumps, bumps, red/white patches, and ulcers that have been there for over three weeks, the Oral Health Foundation recommends:

  • Feeling your face, head, and neck
  • Checking your tongue – both sides and underneath
  • Feeling the insides of your cheeks with your fingers
  • Tilting your head back to look at the roof of your mouth
  • Checking your lips – top and bottom, inside and out
  • Asking your dentist to check for signs of mouth cancer

How to prevent mouth cancer

There are five key ways you can help to prevent mouth cancer or recurrence following remission from the disease. These prevention methods include:

  • Quitting all forms of smoking and tobacco
  • Not exceeding 14 units of alcohol per week
  • Eating a healthy, balanced, veggie-rich diet
  • Maintaining a thorough oral hygiene routine
  • Apply lip sun protection & avoid too much sun

The side effects of mouth cancer

Naturally, the effects of mouth cancer on oral health can be severe. Post-treatment, patients may encounter issues with breathing, drinking/eating, speaking, and swallowing. When surgery is necessary, patients may also experience facial disfigurement.

Soreness and a dry mouth after treatment can lead to increased tooth decay, gum inflammation, and ultimately tooth loss, exacerbating an already difficult situation.

The mental, emotional, and physical aftermath of mouth cancer treatment can be profound. A strong, interdisciplinary support system is crucial for a patient’s rehabilitation.

Dental professionals, alongside clinicians and counsellors, play an essential role in improving the quality of a patient’s life during and after their diagnosis.

What you can do to help

If mouth cancer is diagnosed early, 9/10 patients will be completely cured with surgery to remove cancerous areas. So we can’t overstate how important it is to know the signs and help spread awareness to catch this disease early.

Whether it’s through educating loved ones, taking part in sponsored activities and/or fundraising, taking action is pivotal in the battle against mouth cancer.

We are here for you at any stage of your treatment journey and to help you spot the early warning signs. If you do have any concerns, make sure you get in touch with our caring team here at Dickens Yard Dental.

How our dentists and hygienists can help

Your dentist and hygienist at Dickens Yard Dental can spot the early signs of mouth cancer during a routine examination.

Our dentists take special care at the start of your examination to review your medical history and provide feedback on your specific risk factors.

We also thoroughly assess the inside and outside of your mouth for lumps, bumps, red/white patches, ulcers, etc., to help us detect mouth (and other) cancers.

Worryingly, 25% of mouth cancers have no significant associated risk factor, which places even more emphasis on regular, thorough examinations with your dentist.

Book your dental check-up at our relaxing, modern clinic in Ealing, London will instantly put you at ease, no matter the treatment. Book a treatment or chat with us today to get started.

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