Word on Health

Word on Mouth Cancer

Our grateful thanks to the Oral Health Foundation for their input to this weeks report, which you can hear again further down the page.  Our thanks also to NHS Choices for the use of the information below.

Cancer can occur in any part of the mouth, tongue, lips, throat, salivary glands, pharynx, and other sites located in the head and neck area. 

Every year in Europe, around 100,800 people are diagnosed with head and neck cancer and almost 40,000 die from the disease.These forms of cancer have a higher proportion of deaths per number of cases than breast cancer, cervical cancer or skin melanoma.

Oral and pharyngeal cancer are the sixth most common malignancies reported worldwide and have high mortality rates. Mouth and oropharyngeal cancers are more common in older people.  However, an increasing number of young people are being affected and 25% of the cases have no associated significant risk factors.

They are also more common in men than women.  But rates of these cancers in women have been increasing in recent years. 

Although there have been significant improvements in chemotherapy and surgical techniques, mouth cancer is often particularly challenging to treat since most patients present with advanced disease, have secondary tumours and suffer from other co-morbidities.

In the UK, the survival rate is just over 50%, despite treatment, and this is because of late detection. Early diagnosis gives patients a 90 per cent chance of survival.

In its very early stages, mouth cancers can be almost invisible making it easy to ignore.

Regular visits to your dentist will ensure you are professionally screened for signs of mouth cancer. Talk to your dentist about the process and mouth cancer risk factors.

Spotting the signs - It is important to perform regular, self-examinations to help in the early identification of mouth cancer, which include;  

  • A sore or ulcer in the mouth that does not heal within three weeks
  • A lump or overgrowth of tissue anywhere in the mouth
  • A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, or lining of the mouth
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Difficulty in chewing or moving the jaw or tongue?
  • Numbness of the tongue or other area of the mouth
  • A feeling that something is caught in the throat
If you spot anything in your mouth that concerns you, make an appointment with your dentist or GP immediately. 

The  most effective ways to prevent mouth cancer from developing – or prevent it reocurring after successful treatment – are

  • Stop smoking and keep to the recommended weekly limits for alcohol consumption (21 units for men and 14 units for women). Smoking tobacco (cigarettes, cigars and pipes) and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol are the main risk factors for mouth cancer.  Cigarettes and alcohol contain nitrosamines and other chemicals that are known to cause cancer.  Your risk increases the longer you smoke.  If you are a smoker and also drink a lot, your risk is even higher because they can act together to cause cancer.
  • Stop using chewing tobacco or betel quid. The harmful substances in tobacco and betel quid can cause cancer if they are in contact with your gums and tongue over long periods. Mouth cancer is much more common in parts of the world where people chew betel quid. Of the estimated 390,000 cases of oral cancer worldwide each year, well over half occur in Asia. 
  • Maintain a healthy balanced diet. A 'Mediterranean-style diet', with plenty of fresh vegetables (particularly tomatoes), citrus fruits, olive oil and fish, seems to reduce the risk of developing cancer of the mouth. This may be because these foods contain a lot of antioxidant vitamins and other substances that help prevent damage to body cells.  


Listen to this weeks radio report

All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.