Dental teams support Mouth Cancer Action Month

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Wednesday 2nd November 2022

Dental teams up and down the UK are participating in events and activities to support Mouth Cancer Action Month. The annual campaign, which takes place in November and is run by the Oral Health Foundation and the Mouth Cancer Foundation, is designed to raise awareness of mouth cancer. In the last decade, the number of cases of oral cancer in the UK has risen by over 30%. Throughout the month of November, dental practices and community dental teams will be running events and screening initiatives to raise awareness of oral cancer and encourage people to look out for symptoms and attend regular dental check-ups. Screening for oral cancer is included in routine NHS dental appointments. 

Although the number of cases of oral cancer in the UK has increased significantly in recent years, public awareness of the disease remains relatively low. This is one of the main reasons why survival rates have stalled in comparison with other types of cancer. Many people are unaware of the signs and symptoms and this means that diagnoses are commonly made at an advanced stage. If the cancer has developed and spread, the chances of successful treatment are lower. Early diagnosis is key and this is why awareness campaigns like Mouth Cancer Action Month are so important. Dental teams will be meeting patients, talking to the public about the causes and symptoms of mouth cancer and encouraging people to attend screening over the coming weeks. Many are also taking part in activities, including sponsored walks, to raise money for mouth cancer charities. 

The latest statistics suggest that over 8,300 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed in UK patients each year. Oral cancer kills more people than testicular and cervical cancer combined, yet many people don’t know what kinds of symptoms to look for. The most common symptoms of mouth cancer include abnormal swelling or lumps in the mouth or throat, slow-healing sores and mouth ulcers, a persistent sore throat, numbness in the lips or tongue, difficulty swallowing, changes in speech and red or white patches in the mouth. Seeking advice early can increase the chances of survival by up to 90%. 

Mouth cancer affects more men than women and it tends to be most common in older people. Men are twice as likely to develop oral cancer than women and almost 80% of cases occur in over 55s. Despite these trends, mouth cancer is becoming more prevalent among women and it can affect younger people. The most significant risk factors for mouth cancer include drinking heavily, smoking, exposure to the HPV (human papilloma virus) and a poor diet. People who drink and smoke are over 30 times more likely to develop oral cancer than non-smokers and non-drinkers. Up to a quarter of cases occur in people who don’t have any risk factors. HPV vaccines are now available to help to reduce the risk of oral cancer and other cancers linked to the virus. 

Raising awareness of mouth cancer is particularly important this year, as many people are struggling to access routine NHS dental care. In the absence of regular check-ups, experts fear that thousands of cases of mouth cancer could be missed. Patients who could have been diagnosed early may not be diagnosed until symptoms have become much more advanced and this will impact survival chances. 

During November, dental teams are urging the public to take advantage of free oral cancer screening and encouraging people to be mouth aware. If people notice changes in their dental health or they have symptoms that could be linked to mouth cancer, it’s best to seek advice as soon as possible. Patients who are concerned about symptoms, such as swelling and lumps and painful ulcers that take weeks to heal, can contact their GP or their dentist. Anyone who doesn’t have a dentist can call NHS 111 for advice. Simple checks at home can save lives. If dentists suspect that a patient may have signs of mouth cancer, they can refer them for further tests and investigations. Treatment for mouth cancer usually involves surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy or a combination of the three.