Since November is Mouth Cancer Awareness Month, this blog is dedicated to explaining signs and symptoms of Mouth Cancer, and providing information on what you, the patient, can do to help prevent it.
Mouth Cancer, also known as Oral Cancer, is where a tumour develops in the lining of the mouth. It may be on the surface of the tongue, the insides of the cheeks, the roof of the mouth, the lips or gums.
- Sore mouth ulcers that don’t heal within several weeks
- Persistent lumps in the mouth or neck that don’t go away
- Sockets that don’t heal after extractions
- Persistent numbness/strange feeling on the lips or tongue
- Red or white patches on the lining of the mouth or tongue
Types of Mouth Cancer
Mouth Cancer is categorised by the type of cell the cancer starts in.
Squamous Cell Carcinomas the most common type of mouth cancer, accounting for 9 out of 10 cases.
Less common types of mouth cancer include –
- Adenocarcinomas – cancers developing inside the salivary glands
- Sarcomas – these grow from abnormalities in the bone, cartilage, muscle or other body tissue
- Oral Malignant Melanomas – these start in the cells that produce skin pigment; they appear as very dark, mottled swellings that will often bleed
- Lymphomas – these grow from cells normally found in the lymph glands, but can also develop in the mouth
What causes Mouth Cancer?
- Smoking or using other forms of tobacco
- Drinking alcohol
- Drinking and smoking together poses an even greater risk
- Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) – an infection that can be transmitted sexually
Mouth Cancer is the 6th most common cancer in the world, but it’s much less common in the United Kingdom. Around 6500-6800 people are diagnosed with mouth cancer each year.
Most cases of Mouth Cancer occur in older adults, aged 50-74, only about 12.5% of cases affect people younger in 50. Mouth Cancer can also occur in younger adults, HPV is thought to be associated with most of these cases. It is also more common in women than in men, as men tend to drink more alcohol than women.
Mouth Cancer can make speaking and swallowing very difficult (dysphagia). This can be a serious problem. If small pieces of food enter your airway, and become lodged in your lungs, this can cause pneumonia.
Treating Mouth Cancer
- Surgery – cancerous cells are surgically removed, with a small amount of surrounding normal tissue, to ensure the cancer is completely removed
- Radiotherapy – high energy X-rays are used to kill cancerous cells
- Chemotherapy – Powerful medications are used to kill cancerous cells
These treatments will often be used in combination. Surgery may be followed with a course of radiotherapy.
Maintaining the appearance of your mouth, and important functions like breathing, speaking and eating, will also be given high priority.
A complete cure is often possible in up to 90% of cases.
Preventing Mouth Cancer
- Not smoking
- Ensuring that you do not drink to excess (no more than 14 units of alcohol per week)
- Eating a healthy diet, including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, (particularly tomatoes and citrus fruits), olive oil and fish
- Regular check-ups with your dentist. Dentists can often spot early signs of mouth cancer.