Mouth cancer is a fairly rare form of cancer - about 1 in 50 cases.
There were 7700 cases of mouth, throat, head and neck cancers in the UK in 2011 and 2119 deaths.
However, it is diagnosed far later than most other forms of cancer, so the survival rate at 5 years is correspondingly poor.
90% of those with lip cancers survive 5 years, but it drops to 50% for those located in the mouth, and even worse the further back you go.
This means it is more dangerous than many of the commonly known cancers, such as breast, cervical, prostate, etc.
Radical surgery to remove it completely is also far more disabling than it is for other cancers - it affects your speech, appearance, eating, and social interactions....
The incidence overall of mouth cancer is increasing and while it was always more common in older persons, especially men, it is affecting more and more younger people, and 25% of cases have no known risk factors.
At Barley Mow, all our clinical staff know what 'normal' looks like and if we see anything unusual or different will arrange further investigation.
We are moving towards a more formal 'oral cancer check' to make it clear that we have checked and you are 'OK' as often patients don't vocalise their concerns.
There are a multitude of symptoms of mouth cancer, and many of those below have innocent causes, but the first three are the most important.
- A sore or ulcer in the mouth that does not heal within three weeks.
- A lump or overgrowth of tissue anywhere in the mouth.
- A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, or lining of the mouth.
- Difficulty in swallowing.
- Difficulty in chewing or moving the jaw or tongue.
- Numbness of the tongue or other area of the mouth.
- A feeling that something is caught in the throat.
- A chronic sore throat or voice change (hoarseness) that persists more than six weeks, particularly smokers over 50 years old and heavy drinkers.
- Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable.
- Neck swelling present for more than three weeks.
- Unexplained tooth mobility persisting for more than three weeks
Avoiding Mouth Cancer
As mentioned above 25% of cases have no obvious cause, and to muddle the statistics the ages affected appears to be altering as more and more young adults become victims.
Classically more than two-thirds of mouth cancers in men and more than half in women are caused by smoking.
More than a third of mouth cancers in men and around a sixth in women are associated with alcohol consumption. Smoking and drinking are synergistic as well, so if you do both your risk increases greatly.
That is why in the past the typical mouth cancer victim was an older male who smoked and drank.
A diet rich in fruit and vegetables decreases risk, and more than half of cases in the UK are associated with insufficient fruit and vegetable intake.
Other ways of using tobacco also play a role, but are rare in Malmesbury. These include chewing tobacco, areca/betel nut use and hookah pipes.
More recently infection with a Human Papiloma Virus (HPV16) has become an issue. HPV are associated with mouth and cervical cancer ( which are very similar). In the 80's HPV was associated with 16% or oral cancers and in 2000 it was 73%.
HPV16 is sexually transmitted and is associated with 60% of cervical cancers, 80% of anal cancers and 60% of mouth cancers. It is causing a rise in aggressive oral cancers in young adults with no other risk factors.
It is hoped that the new vaccine against HPV that is presently being given to teenage girls will reduce it's impact, but it would be better if males were vaccinated as well as females.
Most people clear HPV infections within a year or two - it is the ones who don't who are presently in focus.
www.sixstepscreening.org is a website built by a hygienist who is a survivor of misdiagnosis of mouth cancer