November is Mouth Cancer Action Month - a charity campaign which aims to raise awareness of mouth cancer and make a difference by saving thousands of lives through early detection and prevention. 

Throughout November the aim is to get more mouth cancers diagnosed at an early stage by increasing education of the risk factors and signs and symptoms while encouraging everybody to discuss them with their dental professional. In the UK, more than 7,000 people were diagnosed with mouth cancer last year. The disease has grown by a third in the last decade and remains one of very few cancers which are predicted to increase further in the coming years… that’s why Mouth Cancer Action Month is so important.

Although there are risk factors heavily linked to the disease, mouth cancer can affect anybody – that’s why it’s so important that we all know what to look out for. The campaign is all about taking action.

Don’t leave a mouth ulcer unattended for more than three weeks. Don’t ignore any unusual lumps or swellings or red and white patches in your mouth. Early detection could save your life. If you notice any changes in your mouth please speak to a dentist or doctor immediately.

Mouth cancer takes the lives of more than 2,000 people each year in the UK, which is more than testicular and cervical cancer combined. Mouth cancer also takes more lives a year than road traffic accidents. By knowing more about the risk factors, living healthier lifestyles and by learning what to look out we can help reduce our risk and lower the number of lives that mouth cancer effects.

We asked one of our Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, Mr Kavin Andi to provide us with some key facts about mouth cancer:  

Oral cancer can start anywhere in the mouth, including in the lips, front of the tongue, the gums, inside the lining of the cheeks and lips, the floor and roof of the mouth, and behind the wisdom tooth.

Oral cancer is where a tumour develops in the lining of the mouth. It comes under the umbrella term, “cancers of the head and neck.” If a GP or dentist suspects that a patient has mouth cancer they will be referred to a specialist such as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon for more tests and treatment.

1. How common is mouth cancer?
Mouth cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the world although it is less common in the UK. Most cases occur in adults aged 50 to 74 and a little less than 7,000 people are diagnosed with the disease every year.

2. What are the symptoms of mouth cancer?
The most common symptoms of oral cancer are sore ulcers that don’t heal within several weeks, lumps in the mouth that don’t disappear, and persistent lumps in the lymph glands in the neck. There may also be pain when swallowing, unexplained weight loss, bleeding in the mouth, a loosened tooth or teeth, difficulty moving the jaw and red or white patches on the lining of the mouth.

3. Will smoking cause oral cancer?
Mouth cancers are closely linked to tobacco use although not everyone who is diagnosed with mouth cancer uses tobacco. Tobacco also makes treatment of cancer less effective and harder for the body to heal. It may also increase the risk of cancer recurring or causing another type of cancer in the future. Other causes of oral cancer include drinking alcohol combined with smoking heavily, and those who are infected with the human papilloma virus (HPV).

4. If I quit smoking now, is it enough to prevent mouth cancer?
It is never too late to quit smoking and people who stop using tobacco after years of use can significantly reduce the risk of contracting smoking related illnesses such as oral cancer. The sooner someone stops, the sooner the risk goes down.

5. What is the survival rate of mouth cancer?
The outlook for oral cancer depends on which part of the mouth is affected and where the cancer has spread to. If diagnosed early, a complete cure is possible in up to 90% of cases through surgery alone. If there are cases where the cancer is larger, there is a good chance of curing it but surgery will be followed with radiotherapy, and maybe even chemotherapy. On average, around 60% of people with oral cancer will live at least years after diagnosis and many much longer.

If you have any concerns about mouth cancer, don't hesitate - visit you doctor or dentist now!

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