What is oral cancer?
When you develop a tumour in your mouth - on the surface of your tongue, the inside of your cheeks, the roof of your mouth, your lips or gums - you have oral cancer. It’s the sixth most common cancer in the world, and more than 2 in 3 cases develop in adults over the age of 55 - and men are more likely to be diagnosed with oral cancer than women.
Perhaps that’s because on average, men tend to drink more alcohol than women - and drinking is linked to an increased risk of developing mouth cancer, along with smoking or chewing tobacco, infection with HPV and UV light exposure from excess sunlight or from tanning beds.
Because oral cancer is so common, there are several treatment options when it’s discovered. Chemotherapy uses powerful medicines to kill the cancerous cells, while radiotherapy directs beams of radiation at the cells. In some cases, it might be appropriate to conduct surgery to remove the cells and the normal tissue surrounding them to ensure the cancer has been removed completely.
These treatments may be used in conjunction with each other, and if oral cancer has been diagnosed early, it’s often possible to achieve a complete cure in up to 9 in 10 cases using surgery alone. That’s why it’s important to identify oral cancer as quickly as possible.
How can I tell if I have oral cancer?
There are several warning signs that you might have mouth cancer, so it’s important to stay aware of what’s happening in and around your mouth. Keep an eye out for the following symptoms:
Painful mouth ulcers that don’t heal within a few weeks
Unexplained lumps in the mouth or neck that aren’t going away
A persistent odd feeling or numbness on the lip or tongue
White or red patches on the lining of your mouth or tongue (these can be early signs of cancer elsewhere in the body, too)
A change in speech, like a lisp
Unexplained loose teeth, or sockets that aren’t healing after you’ve had a tooth extracted.
There’s no routine screening or testing program for oral cancer, but your General Dentist and Dental Hygienist have been trained to keep an eye out for these warning signs as part of your regularly scheduled check-ups. You should be booking a routine dental checkup once or twice a week, so it’s important to make sure you’re visiting your community dentist frequently, and always let them know if you’ve noticed any of these symptoms and they haven’t gotten better after three weeks - especially if you smoke or drink.
If you’ve noticed something concerning happening in or around your mouth, it might be a good idea to book an appointment with your nearest dentist. You can find a dental surgery in your area using our quick postcode finder.