Mouth cancer is diagnosed in nearly one person every hour in the UK. An estimated seven people each day lose their lives to the disease. Recent studies suggest the number of people with oral cancer is increasing at an alarming rate at home and around the world. Almost 88% of UK adults are now aware of mouth cancer, yet knowledge about its signs, symptoms, and risk factors remains insufficient. Nearly 2 in 3 (62%) have never checked their mouth for signs of cancer. The only method of early diagnosis is mouth cancer screenings. Mouth cancer symptoms are easy to miss as they are subtle and painless. It often goes undiagnosed until well past the treatable stage.
When was the last time you had oral cancer screening? If not recently or ever, you may want to continue reading this.
Understanding Mouth Cancer
Mouth cancer, also known as oral cancer, is a type of head and neck cancer that causes uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the mouth or throat tissue. It can affect various parts of the mouth, including the lips, tongue, gums, inner cheeks, roof of the mouth (palate), and the throat (pharynx). Mouth cancer can be a serious and potentially life-threatening condition if not diagnosed and treated early.
Only 5% of the UK adult population has a reasonable understanding of mouth cancer. People are six times more likely to underestimate its life-threatening nature.
What are the risk factors of mouth cancer?
Mouth cancer can develop in anyone, but certain risk factors increase the likelihood of its occurrence.
Smoking – around 2 in 3 cases are directly linked to smoking. The risk of a smoker being diagnosed with mouth cancer is almost double (91%) that of a never-smoker.
Alcohol – excessive alcohol consumption is responsible for around a third of all mouth cancers. Drinking 1.5 to 6 units of alcohol a day raises the risk of mouth cancer by 81%. Regular drinkers have 2.5 times higher chances of developing mouth cancer than non-and occasional drinkers. People who heavily drink alcohol and smoke are at a 30 times greater risk of getting mouth cancer.
HPV – the human papillomavirus (HPV) type-16 and 18 are linked to around 3 in 4 (73%) of oropharyngeal cancers and more than 1 in 10 (12%) oral cavity and hypopharynx cancers. Risk is higher in those with more sexual partners.
Age and gender – as we age, our cells and DNA are prone to more damage due to biological factors and exposure to various risk factors. More than 80% of new cases diagnosed in the UK are in those over the age of 55. Although the exact reason is unknown, studies have shown that mouth cancer rates are higher in men than women. Almost two-thirds (68%) of all mouth cancer patients in the UK are male.
The other risk factors include areca (betel) nut, paan masala (Gutkha), chewing tobacco, smokeless tobacco, x-rays and gamma radiation, asbestos, excess body weight, salted fish, formaldehyde, wood dust, overexposure to sunlight, family history of cancer and environmental smoke.
Rising prevalence of mouth cancer in the UK
According to the Oral Health Foundation’s The State of Mouth Cancer UK Report 2022, mouth cancer cases have increased by more than one-third (34%) in the last decade to hit a record high and have doubled (103%) within the last 20 years in England. Sadly, the number of people losing their lives to mouth cancer has also increased – 46% compared with ten years ago.
Is mouth cancer treatable?
Yes, mouth cancer is treatable, especially when detected in its early stages. The prognosis and treatment options for mouth cancer depend on various factors, including its stage, location, and the patient’s overall health. Treatment typically involves a combination of therapies, such as surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy.
Importance of early detection
Early detection of mouth cancer is crucial in increasing the chances of survival from 50% to 90%. Regular dental check-ups, oral exams, and mouth cancer screenings help early detection. If you haven’t had a recent oral exam, book one at Mouth Dental to benefit from the latest diagnostics and expert evaluation.
Signs and symptoms of mouth cancer
- Prolonged mouth ulcers
- Red or white patches in the mouth
- Loss of taste
- Lumps in the mouth, head and neck
- Persistent hoarseness of voice
- Unexplained pain in the mouth, throat, or ear
- Difficulty swallowing, accompanied by pain or a feeling of something obstructing the throat
- Numbness, tingling, or loss of sensation in the mouth, tongue, lips, or face
- Difficulty chewing or moving the jaw
Mouth cancer screening
During mouth cancer screening, the oral cavity and throat get examined by a dentist for signs of cancer or precancerous conditions. It begins with a visual examination of the oral cavity, including the lips, gums, tongue, inner cheeks, the roof of the mouth (palate), the floor of the mouth, and the throat (pharynx). Dental professionals use a special light and mirror to get a clearer view. They will also feel for any lumps or swollen lymph nodes in the neck and jaw area. Sometimes, x-rays and scans may be necessary for further examination. Your dentist will ask you about any oral conditions you may be experiencing and review your medical and dental history. You will need to remove any dentures or removable oral appliances to allow for a complete examination.
Prevention and minimising the risk of mouth cancer
- Aim to reduce alcohol intake and refrain from consuming more than 14 units weekly.
- Eat a balanced diet, incorporating five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
- Engage in regular physical activity.
- Strive to quit smoking.
- Avoid chewing tobacco, betel nut, or paan masala.
- Maintain good oral hygiene.
- Have regular check-ups as recommended by your dentist.
Mouth Cancer Screening at Canary Wharf and Nine Elms
It’s important to ensure that the dental practice you choose for your mouth cancer screening has the necessary expertise and diagnostic technology to carry out a thorough exam. Mouth clinics at Canary Wharf and Battersea offer high-end diagnostics, digital dentistry, and in-house expertise. Our South Quay clinic is a leading referral centre, trusted by more than 50 local clinics, and our Nine Elms clinic has the only attached Teaching suite in the area dedicated to knowledge sharing and skill development for dentistry professionals. We prioritise preventive dentistry that safeguards your oral health.