Oral Cancer

Mouth cancer is the UK's fastest growing cancer

oral cancer single ribbon

Which is why we carry out a thorough mouth cancer screening at every routine appointment, as standard. The latest figures show more than 8,700 people in the UK were diagnosed with mouth cancer last year - that means one person is diagnosed with mouth cancer every hour.

It is one of the fewer cancer variations on the rise - cases have increased by almost 50 per cent over the last decade - and it still claims more lives than cervical and testicular cancer combined.

If mouth cancer is spotted early, the chances of survival are good, and the smaller the area or ulcer, the better the chance of survival.

Below we will cover

What are 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 visit your dentist if these areas do not heal within three weeks.

How can mouth cancer be detected early?

Mouth cancer can often be spotted in its early stages by your dentist during a thorough mouth examination. If mouth cancer is recognised early, then the chances of a cure rise to 90%. Many people with mouth cancer go to their dentist or doctor too late.

What is involved in a full examination of the mouth?

The dentist examines the inside of your mouth and your tongue with the help of a small mirror. Remember, your dentist is able to see parts of your mouth that you cannot see easily yourself, so don't be tempted to put off your essential dental health examinations.

Self check video

What should I look out for when self-screening?

Mouth cancer can strike in a number of places, including the lips, tongue, gums and cheek. Given early detection is so crucial with mouth cancer, it's vitally important everyone knows the signs and symptoms. These include:

  • Ulcers which do not heal within three weeks
  • Red and white patches in the mouth
  • Unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth

By following these seven steps to safety, early detection is mad all the more possible:

  1. Head and Neck - Look at your face and neck. Do both sides look the same? Look for any lumps, bumps or swellings that are only on one side of the face.
  2. Neck - Feel and press along the sides and front of your neck. Can you feel any tenderness or lumps?
  3. Lips - Pull down your lower lip and look inside for any sores or change in colour. Next, use your thumb and forefinger to feel the lip for lumps, bumps or changes  in texture. Repeat this on the upper lip.
  4. Cheek - Use you finger to pull out the cheek so that you can see inside. Look for red, white or dark patches. Put your index finger inside your cheek and your thumb on the outside. Gently squeeze and roll the cheek to check for any lumps, tenderness or ulcers. Repeat on the other cheek.
  5. Roof of mouth - Tilt back your head and open your mouth wide to see if there are any lumps or if there is any change in colour. Run your finger on the roof of the mouth to feel for any lumps.
  6. Tongue - Stick out your tongue and look at the surface for any changes in colour or texture. Gently pull out the tongue and look at one side first, then the other side. Look for any swelling, change in colour or ulcers. Examine the underside of the tongue by placing the tip of the tongue on the roof of the mouth.
  7. Floor of the mouth - Look at the floor of the mouth for changes in colour that are different than normal. Gently press your finger along the floor of the mouth and underside of the tongue to feel for any lumps, swellings or ulcers.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is mouth cancer?

Most people have heard of cancer affecting parts of the body such as lungs and breasts. However, cancer can occur in the mouth, where the disease can affect the lips, tongue, cheeks and throat.

Who can be affected by mouth cancer?

Anyone can be affected by mouth cancer, whether they have their own teeth or not. Mouth cancers are more common in people over 40, particularly men. However, research has shown that mouth cancer is becoming more common in younger patients and in women. There are, on average, 8,000 new cases of mouth cancer diagnosed in the UK each year. The number of new cases of mouth cancer in on the increase.

Do people die from mouth cancer?

Yes. Over 2,700 people in the UK die from mouth cancer every year. Many of these deaths could be prevented if the cancer was caught early enough. As it is, people with mouth cancer are more likely to die than those having cervical cancer or melanoma skin cancer.

What can cause mouth cancer?

Most cases of mouth cancer are linked to tobacco and alcohol. Cigarette, cigar and pipe smoking are the main forms of tobacco use in the UK. However, the traditional ethnic habits of chewing tobacco, betel quid, gutkha and paan are particularly dangerous.

Alcohol increases the risk of mouth cancer, and if tobacco and alcohol are consumed together the risk is even greater. Over-exposure to sunlight can also increase the risk of cancer of the lips.

Many recent reports have linked mouth cancer to the human papilomavirus (HPV). HPV is the major 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 it could soon rival smoking and drinking as one of the main causes of mouth cancer. Practicing safe sex and limiting the number of partners you have may help reduce your chances of contracting HPV.

What happens if my dentist finds a problem?

If your dentist finds something unusual they will refer you to a consultant at the local hospital, who will carry out a thorough examination of your mouth and throat. A small sample of cells may be gathered from the area (a biopsy), and these cells will be examined under the microscope to see what is wrong.

What happens next?

If the cells are cancerous, more tests will be carried out. These may include overall health checks, blood tests, x-rays or scans. These tests will decide what course of treamtent is needed.

Can mouth cancer be cured?

If mouth cancer is spotted early, the chances of a complete cure are good, and the smaller the area or ulcer the better the chance of a cure. However, too many people come forward too late, because they do not visit their dentist for regular examinations.

How can I make sure that my mouth stays healthy?

It is important to visit your dentist regularly, as often as they recommend, even if you wear dentures. This is especially important if you smoke and drink alcohol.

When brushing your teeth, look out for any changes in your mouth, and report any red or white patches, or ulcers, that have not cleared up within three weeks.

When exposed to the sun, be sure to use a good protective sun cream, and put the correct type of barrier cream on your lips.

A good diet, rich in vitamins A, C and E, provides protection against the development of mouth cancer. Plenty of fruit and vegetables help the body to protect itself, in general, from most cancers.

Cut down on smoking and alcohol consumption.

Need more help?

Help with giving up smoking can be obtained from your dental practice, health centre or NHS stop smoking services 0800 0224332 or at www.smokefree.nhs.uk

Help with alcohol concerns can be obtained from your dental practice, health centre or drinkline 0800 9178282 or www.alcoholconcern.org.uk