‘If in doubt – get checked out’ when it comes to Mouth Cancer

 ‘If in doubt – get checked out’ when it comes to Mouth Cancer

Health professionals here have joined forces to raise awareness of the causes, signs and symptoms of Mouth Cancer.

Around 200 people are diagnosed with mouth cancer each year in Northern Ireland, often at a late stage, with about a third of those diagnosed dying from the disease.

And according to figures from the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry, the number of cases looks set to double by 2035.

The main risk factors of mouth cancer are tobacco use and drinking alcohol and together these account for around 75% of mouth cancers, and people who both drink and use tobacco are up to 30 times more likely to develop the condition. However, early detection transforms survival chances to more than 90%.

The Public Health Agency, Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, the British Dental Association and the Health and Social Care Board are marking Mouth Cancer month in November by encouraging people to be aware of the early signs of mouth cancer and to seek help if they have any concerns.

Colette Rogers, Strategic Lead for Tobacco Control at the Public Health Agency (PHA) says symptoms can manifest in several ways. “It’s important that people know what to look out for and take time to check for changes in the mouth. This habit of carrying out a ‘mouth check’, similar to the ‘breast check’ advised for women, could save lives.

“In addition to early detection it is of paramount importance to know what you can do to reduce your risk of developing mouth cancer. We know that tobacco use is the biggest risk factor for developing mouth cancer and while it may be difficult to quit there is help available. In Northern Ireland there are over 650 free PHA-funded stop smoking specialist services available in a variety of settings. For more information and useful tips to stop smoking visit the PHA’s ‘Want 2 Stop’ website at www.want2stop.info .”

Gerry McElwee from Cancer Focus Northern Ireland says the message is clear.

“Stop smoking, reduce your intake of alcohol, eat a healthy diet with at least 5 daily servings of fruit and vegetables and remember that early diagnosis can really make the difference. So make sure you visit a dentist and check your mouth regularly - it might just save your life.”

Mouth cancer can appear in different forms, most often as a painless ulcer that doesn’t heal. Michael Donaldson, Head of Dental Services at the Health and Social Care Board, says early intervention is key. “Dentists are trained to diagnose all diseases of the mouth including oral cancer. We would encourage patients to consult their dentists about any oral condition that does not resolve within 3 weeks.”

Peter Crooks, Chair of the BDA NI Dental Practice Committee says that in relation to oral cancer, visiting your dentist regularly could quite simply be lifesaving. “Dentists can play an important role in detecting unusual changes in the mouth, lips, head and neck.   Through our oral health check initiative, a partnership between Cancer Focus NI, BDA and the Health and Social Care Board, we hope to educate the public on the risk factors, and signs and symptoms of oral cancer, and ultimately achieve better health outcomes.”

Patient information on mouth cancer can be accessed on the Cancer Focus NI website at www.cancerfocusni.org.  Cancer Focus Northern Ireland provides information and support to people worried about, or affected by cancer.  For advice contact Nurseline on 0800 783 3339 which is available free from a landline from Monday to Friday, 9.00 am to 1.00 pm, or by email at nurseline@cancerfocusni.org.

For more information on the signs and symptoms of cancer visit the PHA Be Cancer Aware website www.becanceraware.info. The website provides information about cancer signs and symptoms, explains what to do if you’re concerned, and signposts to recommended sources of support or further information.