Thousands of people could have mouth cancer without knowing - the key signs to watch out for

Tuesday, 1st December 2020, 1:15 pm
Updated Tuesday, 1st December 2020, 1:16 pm

A dentist has revealed the warning signs of mouth cancer that thousands of people could be unknowingly living with across the UK.

The warning comes after 37 year old Alan Birch passed away from mouth cancer, despite being a non-smoker and non-drinker, and living an active lifestyle.

Dentists are concerned about the number of cases of mouth cancer that have potentially gone undiagnosed, after latest figures from the British Dental Association revealed that 19 million dental treatments were missed due to lockdown.

Healthy dad of 7

From Wirral in Merseyside, Alan Birch was diagnosed with mouth cancer in 2018. The Liverpool Echo reported that the self employed plasterer and dad of seven had to have 90 per cent of his tongue removed, and underwent radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

The cancer returned each time, and specialists informed Birch and his wife, Debbie McDonough, that there was nothing more they could do to stop the spread. He passed away in April.

McDonough has encouraged people to keep on top of their dentists appointments, advising that “they are the ones who notice the warning signs of mouth and tongue cancer.”

She added, “Always be careful of ulcers especially if you have them longer than two weeks, and never think you are wasting an appointment if you are worried about anything. It's better to be safe than sorry."

Unaware of mouth cancer screening

Mouth cancer takes more lives than cervical and testicular cancer combined, with 8,722 new cases reported in the UK last year - a 97 per cent rise in cases since 2000.

Dentist and director of clinical dentistry at Portman Dental Care, Dr Catherine Tannahill, carried out the research and noted, “As dentists we see first-hand the impact this disease can have, and that's why we want to ensure people are aware of what the signs and symptoms are, what to do if they spot an issue and what steps they can take to reduce the risk of developing mouth cancer.”

“This is now more important than ever before, as thousands of diagnoses may have potentially been missed this year due to dental practices having to close in initial lockdown, and the subsequent backlog of appointments since.

“While this may sound alarming, early diagnosis of mouth cancer leads to a 90% survival rate, which is why it is imperative that people continue visiting their dentist for regular check-ups.”

Common signs of mouth cancer

Dr Tannahill shared some indicators for mouth cancer. These include:

Mouth ulcers that do not heal in three weeksUnusual lumps or swelling in the mouth, head or neckRed and white patches within the mouthCan appeal in the tonsils, roof or floor of the mouth and tongue

She added that people can make a few simple lifestyle changes to help reduce the risk of developing mouth cancer.

She advised “maintaining a healthy diet, reducing drinking alcohol, stopping smoking, using SPF on your lips and of course, visiting the dentist regularly.”

“We strongly encourage people to act fast once they spot anything out of the ordinary, as it will vastly increase their chance of combating the disease. Seek advice from a healthcare professional as soon as possible if you have any concerns,” Dr Tannahill added.

More information on Mouth Cancer Awareness can be found on the Portman Dental Care website.