Oral Health Foundation mouth cancer alert

Mouth cancer alert: New cases of mouth cancer in the United Kingdom have risen to a record high, according to the findings of a new report.

Figures collected by the Oral Health Foundation show that 8,864 people in the UK were diagnosed with the disease last year. This has increased by 34% compared to 10 years ago and has more than doubled (103%) within the last generation.

The findings are part of the charity’s new State of Mouth Cancer UK Report 2022 and have been released to coincide with November’s Mouth Cancer Action Month.

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, says the charity is fighting an uphill battle against mouth cancer and more must be done to raise awareness of the disease.

Dr Carter says: “While most cancers are on the decrease, cases of mouth cancer continue to rise at an alarming rate. Traditional causes like smoking and drinking alcohol to excess are quickly being caught by emerging risk factors like the human papillomavirus (HPV). The stigma around mouth cancer has changed dramatically. It’s now a cancer that really can affect anybody.

“We have seen first-hand the devastating affect mouth cancer can have on a person’s life. It changes how somebody speaks, it makes eating and drinking more difficult, and often changes a person’s physical appearance.

“During Mouth Cancer Action Month, we will be raising greater awareness of mouth cancer. We urge everybody to become more ‘mouthaware’ by being able to recognise the early warning signs of mouth cancer and to be aware of the common causes. Most importantly, if you notice anything unusual, please don’t delay and seek help from a doctor or dentist.”

At 26 years old, Charlotte was given the life-changing news that she had mouth cancer.

The ex-cabin crew member, now training to be a midwife, does not fit the typical mouth cancer patient – being a young woman who’s a non-smoker and an active gymgoer. But Charlotte represents a growing number of younger people who are being diagnosed with mouth cancer.

Charlotte says: “I had some ulcers for about three to four years before I had my (mouth cancer) operation.

“I wasn’t worried about them at first because I do get run down. I was jet-lagged and flying all the time with my job and often ulcers are sign of celiac disease, which I have, so I put it down to that. They came and went but always in the same area, they never fully went but they used to flare up like if I was run down.

“They felt like ulcers do, but just a bigger patch and they started to turn white, and they had like red around them as well, so they looked quite like inflamed.

“I thought maybe it was a bit of an infection or something. My mum kept telling me to go and get it checked so I went to my doctor who sent me for a biopsy.

“I went in for the results, and he asked, ‘have you got anyone with you today?’ I looked at him and said, ‘it’s not good is it?’ He replied ‘no, it’s not. I’m really sorry, you’ve got cancer’. I remembering saying to him ‘what do you mean? Surely not,’ and I think I almost laughed. It was such a shock because I’m otherwise a healthy person.

“There is a stereotype for mouth cancer. I was told ‘oh, you’re too young’, ‘God it won’t be that’. But it really can happen to anyone.”

Mouth cancer can appear as a mouth ulcer which does not heal, red or white patches in the mouth, or unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth, head or neck.

One-in-three mouth cancers (33%) are found on the tongue and almost one-in-four (23%) are discovered on the tonsil.

The other places to check for mouth cancer include the lips, gums, inside of the cheeks, as well as the floor and roof of the mouth.

Latest figures show that 3,034 people in the UK lost their life to mouth cancer last year.

This has risen by almost 20% in the last five years.

Survival rates for mouth cancer have barely improved in the last 20 years. One of the key reasons behind this is that far too many mouth cancers are diagnosed too late.

More than half (53%) of all mouth cancers diagnosed at stage IV – where the cancer is at its most advanced.

Dr Catherine Rutland, Clinical Director at Denplan, part of Simplyhealth, says getting into a routine of checking for signs of mouth cancer at home is crucial.

Dr Rutland says: “If people can easily recognise the risk factors and what to look out for in terms of changes in their mouth, health professionals will also be able to catch cases earlier.

“Late diagnosis of mouth cancer is becoming all too common, and this will have a severe effect on a person’s quality of life and their chances of survival.”

More information about mouth cancer, visit www.mouthcancer.org.

More mouth cancer information:

Mouth cancer – signs and symptoms

In the early stages the signs of mouth cancer can be subtle and painless, so you may not think twice about them.

The potential symptoms of mouth cancer are:

  • A mouth ulcer that does not heal within three weeks.
  • White or red patches in the mouth.
  • Unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth, head or neck.
  • Any persistent ‘hoarseness’ in the voice.
  • Knowing the symptoms of mouth cancer is crucial because early diagnosis gives you a better chance of beating the disease.

If you notice any of these, please make an appointment with a dentist or doctor.

Being mouthaware

Spotting mouth cancer early increases our chances of beating the disease and gives us a much higher quality of life after treatment.

However, nearly two-in-three have never checked their mouth for signs of mouth cancer.

We are three times more likely to routinely check for testicular or breast cancer.

Just like other cancers, it is important that we get into a routine of checking ourselves for signs of mouth cancer. A thorough look while we’re in the bathroom cleaning our teeth takes less than a minute.

Mouth Cancer Action Month

November is Mouth Cancer Action Month – the UK’s biggest charity campaign for mouth cancer awareness.

Run by the Oral Health Foundation supported Denplan, part of Simplyhealth, the campaign has been running for over 20 years.

During the campaign we are looking to raise awareness of mouth cancer and help everybody understand more about the disease. This includes:

  • Knowing how to spot mouth cancer early and regularly checking for unusual changes in the mouth.
  • Understanding what is likely to cause mouth cancer and reducing your risk.
  • Acting quickly when you see something out of the ordinary by visiting your dentist.
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