Mouth cancer is an important global healthcare problem. There are more than 700 cases of cancer of the mouth (oral cavity and pharynx) reported in Ireland every year. These cancers are more common in men than in women. However this is changing.
The incidence rate of cancer of the mouth in women has increased significantly at a rate of 3% per year since 1994. It mainly affects older people although younger people are being diagnosed now. In Britain, the incidence of mouth cancer has increased faster than any other cancer in the past 25 years.
Beating mouth cancer is so dependent on diagnosing it at an early stage.
If it is caught early, the chances of surviving mouth cancer are nine out of ten – those odds are pretty good, and that’s why early detection is so important.
Sadly, far too many mouth cancers are not spotted early enough.
Mouth Cancer Action Month promotes the message ‘If in doubt, get checked out’. We encourage everybody to be mouthaware and pay more attention to what’s going on inside the mouth. Most importantly, if you notice anything out of the ordinary, it is essential that you tell your dentist or doctor immediately.
Checking for mouth cancer
As mouth cancer can strike in a number of places, including the lips, tongue, gums and cheeks, and given that early detection is so crucial for survival, it’s extremely important that we all know what to look out for.
Three signs and symptoms not to ignore are:
- Mouth ulcers which do not heal in three weeks.
- Red and white patches in the mouth.
- Unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth or head and neck area.
When checking for signs of mouth cancer you should follow the following routine:
Head and neck
Check if both sides look the same and search for any lumps, bumps or swellings that are only on one side of the face. Feel and press along the sides and front of your neck being alert to any tenderness or lumps to the touch.
Pull down your lower lip and look inside for any sores or changes in colour. Use your thumb and forefinger to feel the lip for any unusual lumps, bumps or changes in texture. Repeat this on the upper lip.
Use your finger to pull out your cheek so that they can see inside. Look for red, white or dark patches.
Then place your index finger inside your cheek, with your opposing thumb on the outside gently squeeze and roll the cheek to check for any lumps, tenderness or ulcers, repeat this action on the other cheek.
Roof of the mouth
With your head tilted back and mouth open wide, your dentist will look to see if there are any lumps or if there is any change in colour. They will run their ﬁnger on the roof of your mouth to feel for any lumps.
Examine your tongue, looking at the surface for any changes in colour or texture.
Stick out your tongue or move it from one side to another, again looking for any swelling, change in colour or ulcers. Finally, take a look at the underside of the tongue by placing the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
Floor of the mouth
Look at the floor of the mouth for changes in colour that are different than normal. Press your finger along the floor of your mouth and underside of your tongue to feel for any unusual lumps, swellings or ulcers.
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. This happens during your routine dental check-up.
In the below video, Oral Health Foundation Trustee, Dr Ben Atkins, talks through what to expect from a visual mouth cancer check.
If you find anything unusual in any of these areas, or are unsure of anything, visit your dentist or doctor as soon as possible.
Read one girls (Millie Murphy) harrowing story on our facebook page on her journey with Mouth Cancer that started off as a small blister that just wouldn’t go away.
For more in-depth information about mouth cancer, visit mouth cancer information pages here, where you will find information about the signs and symptoms of mouth, head and neck cancer, and an outline of risk factors and prevention of mouth, head and neck cancer.