Over the last year, 8,337 people in the UK were given the life-changing news that they have mouth cancer.
The more we know about mouth cancer, the better chance we have of beating it. This means knowing how to spot mouth cancer early and knowing where to go when we see something out of the ordinary. It also means reducing our risk by cutting down on the things that cause mouth cancer.
Mouth cancer can affect anyone. However, there are several risk factors that can increase our chance of developing the disease.
The main causes linked to mouth cancer are:
Around one in six (17%) oral cavity cancers are directly caused by smoking. The risk of being diagnosed with mouth cancer for a smoker is almost double (91%) that of a never-smoker.
Drinking alcohol to excess is responsible for around a third of all mouth cancers. Those who drink more than 10 units of alcohol a week could be increasing the risk of mouth cancer by 81%.
For those who heavily drink alcohol and also smoke, the risk increases by 30 times.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) type-16 and 18 are linked to around three in four (73%) of oropharyngeal cancers and more than one in ten (12%) oral cavity and hypopharynx cancers. Risk is higher in those with more sexual partners.
Age and gender
As we get older, our cells and DNA become more damaged. This is either biological or from exposure to the other risk factors. We do not know why mouth cancer rates are higher in men; however, it could be due to greater exposure to risk factors.
The other risk factors associated with mouth cancer include: areca (betel) nut, paan masala (Gutkha), chewing tobacco, smokeless tobacco, x-rays and gamma radiation, asbestos, salted fish, formaldehyde, wood dust, over exposure to sunlight, environmental smoke.
If in doubt . . .
Mouth Cancer Action Month promotes the message ‘If in doubt, get checked out’. We encourage everybody to be mouth-aware and pay more attention to what’s going on inside the mouth. Most importantly, if you notice anything out of the ordinary, it is essential that you tell your dentist or doctor immediately.
Checking for mouth cancer
As mouth cancer can strike in a number of places, including the lips, tongue, gums and cheeks, and given that early detection is so crucial for survival, it’s extremely important that we all know what to look out for.
Three signs and symptoms not to ignore are: