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Mouth cancer cure starts with a check; Tomorrow marks the start of mouth cancer awareness month. Here, dental hygienist Alison Lowe explains all about the condition.

MOST people have heard of cancer affecting parts of the body such as the lungs or breasts but what many people don't know is that cancer can also occur in the mouth and affect the lips, tongue, cheeks and throat.

According to the British Dental Health Foundation (BDHF) there is a clear gap in public knowledge about the disease that needs to be filled because mouth cancer rates in the UK are increasing at an alarming rate and latest statistics reveal that 7,968 new cases were reported last year, a rise of 50% since the millennium.

Figures in 2010 from Cancer Research UK show that in the UK, one person dies every five hours from the disease and due to late detection the mortality rate from these cancers is just over 50%, despite treatment.

To this end, throughout November, Mouth Cancer Action Month - a campaign organised by the British Dental Health Foundation aims to raise awareness about this ever increasing problem.

Anyone can be affected by mouth cancer, whether they have their own teeth or not. Traditionally, the disease has been more common in men particularly those over the age of 40. However, it is also becoming increasingly prevalent in women and younger people.

Lifestyle choices are a huge influence; poor diet, the human papilloma virus (HPV) often transmitted through oral sex, tobacco use and drinking alcohol to excess all increase the chances of mouth cancer.

If tobacco and alcohol are consumed together the risk is increased by 30 times; yet so many social smokers still choose to light up while having a drink.

The traditional ethnic habits of chewing tobacco, betel quid, gutkha and paan are very dangerous and over-exposure to sunshine can also heighten the risk of cancer to the lips.

In its very early stages, mouth cancers can be almost invisible making it easy to ignore.

Chances of survival are improved if the cancer is detected early and rapidly treated. Common symptoms include 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 or numbness of the tongue or other area of the mouth.

Patients may also have a feeling that something is caught in the throat, a chronic sore throat or voice change (hoarseness) that persists more than six weeks, 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, persistent nasal obstruction and unexplained persistent earache. There are three main treatment options for mouth cancer, including surgery - where the cancerous cells are surgically removed, chemotherapy - where powerful medications are used to kill cancerous cells and radiotherapy - where high energy X-rays are used to kill cancerous cells.

These treatments are often used in combination.

Of all the risk factors, the rise of the HPV virus is perhaps of most concern. It is predicted to overtake smoking as the leading cause of the disease in the next ten years.

In the UK around one in five cases of mouth cancer are thought to have occurred as a result of HPV.

Despite the high profile case involving Michael Douglas, our awareness and understanding of the problem is worryingly poor. A recent survey found that one in five men are under the impression that HPV can be transmitted like a common cold.

Speaking at the campaign launch, Professor Margaret Stanley from the Department of Pathology at the University of Cambridge, claimed that the number of HPV-related cancers in men are growing at an alarming rate and has called for boys to be vaccinated as well as girls.

She says that "it is not fair, ethical or socially responsible to have a public health policy that leaves half of the population vulnerable to infection".

In Australia young men are already vaccinated against HPV and research in the USA suggests that a population-wide HPV vaccination programme would be the best solution to ensure the health and well-being of all young people. In a survey conducted by OnePoll, it was found that an overwhelming majority of people support the inclusion of boys in the HPV vaccination programme for girls that currently takes place in secondary schools throughout the UK as a preventive measure against cervical cancer.

If mouth cancer is spotted early, the chances of a complete cure are good; around 90%. However, too many people come forward too late, either through fear or because they do not visit their dentist regularly for a check up.

Since early detection is so important, it makes sense to regularly perform self-checks. It is important to visit your dentist if any of the signs and symptoms do not heal within three weeks. Remember, if in doubt get checked out. There is really nothing to worry about when you get checked out.

Your dentist or hygienist will simply examine your mouth with the help of a small mirror and whilst self-checks are helpful it is important to remember that the dental team are able to see parts of your mouth that you cannot easily see yourself Prevention is always better than cure and the following tips will help to ensure that you maintain a healthy mouth: | Visit your dentist at least once a year even if you wear dentures, especially if you smoke and drink alcohol; | Look out for any changes in your mouth when you're brushing or flossing your teeth; | If you're out in the sun, be sure to wear a high SPF (sun protection factor) lip balm; | A healthy diet, rich in vitamins A, C and E helps to protect against the development of mouth cancer (poor diet has been linked to half of cases in the UK). Therefore, it helps to include lots of fruit and vegetables in your daily diet; | Be aware that a combination of smoking and drinking spells double and try to cut down if you can; | Finally, the advice from the BDHF Mouth Cancer Action Month campaign cannot be stressed enough - if in doubt, get checked out. After all, regular visits to your dentist could save your life.


Cases of mouth cancer are up by a half in a little over 10 years and survival rates are only 50%, largely because people delay going to see their doctor or dentist
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 31, 2013

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