November is mouth cancer awareness month and as part of our “you ask, we answer” series, we aim to give you the unbiased truth. Sometimes it’s light-hearted and maybe a bit complicated. Sometimes the truth can be tough and upsetting (and a bit of a downer!). Sadly this is one of those articles and is probably more sombre in tone due to the subject. We will be very frank, and some content may not be appropriate for everybody – that’s your trigger warning. Our aim is not to scare or offend but to give the facts.

We wanted to give you a brief overview on oral cancer. Oral cancer is classified as a head and neck cancer and one of the most common cancers in the UK. It can affect the tongue, roof of mouth, floor of mouth, gums, cheeks, throat or the jaw bones and salivary glands. There are some stats below, taken from cancer charity UK website.

Who can get oral cancer?

Sadly, in theory like many cancers anyone can get oral cancers. There are a few things that can increase the risk of developing oral cancer. The 2 most common risk factors are drinking alcohol and smoking. In a case where someone smokes and drinks alcohol, the risk is increase by 100x! Other common causes are chewing tobacco and a particular type of tobacco called Betel quid or chewing Arica nut. These are more common in South East Asia and some parts of Africa. The human papillomavirus, which causes genital warts, can also transform into an oral cancer in the mouth and throat. This is rare, however cases over the past 20 years have been rising in the younger population.

What happens if you get it?

As with all cancer, oral cancer isn’t actually a single disease. Oral cancer is a large range of different types of conditions. The outcome will depend on where the cancer is and what type of cancer it is. The best-case scenario is that it can be cut out at an early stage (sometimes known as precancerous or dysplasia) and is in an easily to reach place that makes no impact on speech, eating, drinking or appearance.

The worse case scenario can be seriously horrible. It can involve major surgery to have part of the mouth, jaw or face removed. Followed by chemotherapy (drug therapy) and radiotherapy, followed by major reconstructive surgery using different parts of the body to fill what has to be removed by surgery. It could mean not being able to speak or eat properly or at all. There could be significant scars or massive change in the face.

Unfortunately not all cancer patients survive and before or after treatment the cancer may not be manageable, which would lead to a loss of life.

How can you stop it?

Without sounding preachy for Judge mental, the best ways to try and prevent it all by stopping the activities that cause it. This obviously includes smoking and drinking.

The main thing we recommend is to guard against mouth cancer is by getting regular appointment at your dentist. They will hopefully be able to take things early before they develop and anything more severe/difficult. This is also why we recommend patients have got no teeth and may wear a full set of dentures at the top and the bottom to attend every six months. Just because you have no teeth doesn’t mean you can’t get oral cancer.

Final thoughts.

At the deep end, mouth cancer, just like other cancers, is a spectrum of disease. Insuring we limit the activities that lead to it will always help to reduce the incidence in the general public. It will also help reduced incidence of other more common cancers such as lung cancer. Unlike other cancers that may not be picked up as quickly, regular visits to the dentist will help to ensure that anything that looks slightly untoward can be picked up until with sooner.

If you have anything in your mouth it’s been there for more than three weeks, please get in touch with your dentist for a review!

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