September 15th is Mouth, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Day.
Do you know the signs?
Over 700 cases of mouth cancer are detected in Ireland each year. About half of all mouth cancers are diagnosed at an early stage. Earlier diagnosis results in easier treatment, better outcomes and a higher quality of life after treatment.
Mouth Head and Neck Cancer is a diverse group of squamous cell cancers that affect the oral cavity, pharynx, and larynx. Overall, it is the sixth most common cancer worldwide with an annual estimated incidence of 550,000 cases with over 700 of those in Ireland and around 300,000 deaths.
A regular checkup with your dentist includes an examination of the entire mouth for early detection of cancerous and precancerous conditions. You should also know what to look for while cleaning your mouth. If you observe any of the tell tale signs listed below, make sure to see your dentist so that any relevant signs or symptoms can be evaluated.
Check your mouth frequently
Mouth Cancer can affect the lips, gums, cheeks, tongue, palate, tonsil, throat, salivary glands, nose and voice box (larynx).
Some of the tell tale signs of mouth cancer may include:
- A sore or an ulcer in the mouth that doesn’t heal.
- Persistent white or red patches anywhere in the mouth.
- Thickening or hardening of the cheek or tongue.
- A lump in the mouth or neck area.
- Persistent pain or discomfort in the mouth area.
- Persistent pain or difficulty with chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving tongue.
- Unexplained loose teeth.
Some signs and symptoms of head and neck cancer may include:
- Numbness of tongue or face.
- Persistent sore throat or hoarseness.
- Unexplained bleeding from mouth or nose.
- Persistent blocked nose.
- Persistent earache accompanied by changes to hearing.
- Drooping of face on one side.
- Unexplained weight loss over a short period.
Did you know that dentists look for signs of oral cancer during routine dental exams? Most mouth cancers can be detected at an early stage by a simple screening examination as part of a regular dental check up.
The Value of an Oral Examination
If the dentist can find an obvious cause for the signs of symptoms, he or she may be able to treat promptly and check for signs of healing subsequently. Some signs may require a more detailed investigation including a biopsy or referral to a specialist centre. Regular dental checkups are essential to prevent late diagnosis of mouth cancer.
Mouth cancer occurs more frequently in men than women, particularly in men over the age of 50. This trend is changing with the incidence in women, including younger women, increasing at a rate of 3% a year since 1994.
Factors that can increase risk of mouth cancer:
- Smoking or tobacco chewing combined with heavy alcohol consumption especially spirits
- Prolonged exposure of facial area to sunshine, especially among farmers and gardeners
- Working with certain chemicals or dusts increases risk of cancer in nasal area
- Human papilloma virus (HPV) through sexual contact can increase risk of mouth cancers
- Diet low in fruit and vegetables increases risk of mouth cancer
Reduce the Risks
- Do not smoke
- Reduce alcohol consumption
- Eat your 5 portions of fruit & veg
- Use sun protection lip cream
- Self examine regularly
- Wear a mask when working with chemicals and dust
- Yearly dental exams
- Get the HPV vaccine