Mouth Cancer, What am I Looking for?
November is mouth cancer awareness month and because of this I thought it would be extra important to explain what it is and how to look for it. Mouth cancer or oral cancer is the 8th most common cancer in the world and is where a tumour develops anywhere on the inside of your mouth. Anyone can develop oral cancer even if they have no teeth.
What to look for
- Red or white patches on the inside of the mouth including the tongue or lip (they may be raised but they could also be flat)
- An ulcer that does not hurt or has been there for over two weeks
- A lump inside the mouth including the roof of your mouth, tongue or lip, but could also be near the neck.
It is advisable to visit your dentist if you are concerned about having any of these symptoms. It is always better to have it checked than to leave it.
Tumours develop because the normal cell growth goes wrong. The cells continue to grow and divide when they are not meant to. Risk factors that could encourage this process to occur include:
- Smoking or using products that contain tobacco (it is controversial but some E-Cigarette products are thought to have some cancer causing properties)
- High alcohol consumption
- The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection, which also causes genital warts and cervical cancer
- Damage from the sun may increase the risk of cancer developing on the lip
Can it be caught early?
- The British Dental Health Foundation found that 1,800 people a year in the UK lose their lives to mouth cancer. However, most of them could have been prevented if it had been detected earlier
- As your GP won’t usually routinely check the inside of your mouth but your dentist does. Therefore, it is very important to attend regular dental check-ups (even if you have no teeth)
How does my dentist check for mouth cancer?
- The dentist will check all around the inside of your mouth for anything strange and may use a small mirror to help
- They will ask you to stick your tongue out and move it around so they can see everywhere on your tongue for anything strange
- They will then look down your throat and may ask you to say “Ahh” if they need a clearer look
What if they find something strange?
- They will tell you what they have found and where it is. They may take a picture of it for their record but also so you can have a look at it
- If they are concerned by it, they may then refer you to a consultant at the nearest hospital for a further examination and testing. The test may include taking a sample of the cells that make up the patch called a biopsy. These cells are then viewed under a microscope to see what is wrong with them
- If the results of the test show that the cells are cancerous then further testing may be needed to find out what type of treatment is required. These tests may include blood tests, x-rays or scans
Can it be prevented
Visiting your dentist regularly can help to find early signs as it can then be treated more effectively. But there are a few things that can help to reduce your risk of developing mouth cancer:
- A healthy diet, with plenty of vitamins A, C and E can help your body to protect itself against oral cancer. Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables helps as they have these vitamins in them
- Wear the appropriate level of sun protective cream when you know you will be exposed to the sun. Using a lip balm with SPF in it can help too
- Avoid alcohol and smoking
At New Street Dental Care, we think that regular check-ups are extremely important. They to help you maintain all aspects of your dental health and especially for the early detection of mouth cancer. Both our dentists, Julian and Mahsa check your mouth every time you attend for treatment, not just at your check-ups.