Oral health: ‘Warning signs’ in your mouth you should not ignore – cancer symptoms

Adele Roberts says her cancer diagnosis 'was a shock'

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Mouth cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the world, and can have a number of signs. Some of these may be found when you are looking at your mouth, for example when brushing your teeth in the mirror. If you spot them it is important to see your GP.

The NHS says: “Mouth cancer can develop in most parts of the mouth, including the lips, gums and occasionally the throat.”

The health body says that most common symptoms of mouth cancer are:

  • Sore mouth ulcers that do not heal within several weeks
  • Unexplained, persistent lumps in the mouth that do not go away
  • Unexplained, persistent lumps in the lymph glands in the neck that do not go away.

The NHS says if mouth cancer is diagnosed early, a complete cure is often possible in up to nine in 10 cases using surgery alone.

It adds: “Many of the common symptoms can be caused by less serious conditions, such as an infection.
“However, it’s strongly recommended that you see a GP or dentist if any of the symptoms have lasted longer than 3 weeks. It’s particularly important to seek medical advice if you drink or smoke regularly.”

The Mouth Cancer Foundation says that the majority of deaths from mouth cancer occur because of late detection, “due to a low public awareness of the signs, symptoms, and risks”.

It explains that self-checks for mouth cancer take just two minutes and “could save your life, or someone you know”.

Indeed, the Oral Health Foundation states: “It is a good idea to get into the habit of regularly checking yourself for the early signs of mouth cancer, especially in the time between dental visits. Take the time to perform a self check for mouth cancer every month.”

It adds: “Mouth cancer is often spotted in its early stages by your dentist during a thorough mouth examination.”

You are at increased risk of developing mouth cancer if you smoke or are using tobacco in other ways, such as chewing tobacco. As well as smoking there are several other risk factors.

The Mouth Cancer Foundation says these include drinking alcohol to excess, which can increase risks fourfold, and having HPV.

The charity warns: “The majority of deaths from mouth cancer occur because of late detection, due to a low public awareness of the signs, symptoms, and risks”, hence the importance of quick self-checks for mouth cancer.

The NHS says: “Men are more likely to get mouth cancer than women. This may be because, on average, men tend to drink more alcohol than women.”

The NHS recommends you drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week. If you drink as much as 14 units a week, it’s best to spread it evenly over three or more days.

The Mouth Cancer Foundation recommends that everyone over the age of 16 has a professional examination for early signs of mouth cancer, once a year, at their dentist.

Cancer Research UK says that if you go to see your GP, they will ask you about your symptoms and they might examine you. They may arrange tests or a referral to a specialist.

It adds: “Even if you’re worried about what the symptom might be, don’t delay seeing them. Your worry is unlikely to go away if you don’t make an appointment.

“The symptom might not be due to cancer. But if it is, the earlier it’s picked up the higher the chance of successful treatment. You won’t be wasting your doctor’s time.”

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