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Rates of mouth cancer are on the rise - know the warning signs

Specialists at Poole Hospital are reporting a dramatic increase in diagnoses of mouth cancer, with 43% more cases diagnosed in 2011 (70) than in 2006 (49).

This Mouth Cancer Awareness Week (11-17 November 2012) Poole Hospital’s head and neck cancer team will be raising awareness of the risk factors connected to the disease, early warning signs to look out for and the importance of early detection - mouth cancer kills one person every three hours due to late detection.

Early detection is key
Early diagnosis is vital to improving survival chances. Symptoms to look out for include:

  • A sore or ulcer in the month that doesn’t heal within three weeks
  • A white or red path on the gums, tongue, or lining of the mouth
  • A lump or overgrowth of tissue anywhere in the mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty in chewing or moving the jaw or tongue
  • Numbness of the tongue of the mouth

Chris Owen, a Poole Hospital patient, has battled mouth cancer twice in the last six years, undergoing two surgeries to remove tumours on his throat and tongue. He said: “Mouth cancer affects the basic aspects of your everyday life - things like swallowing, eating, drinking and tasting are challenging.

“Looking back, last time I shouldn’t have left it several months between my initial visit to the doctor and going to hospital. Those months could have been crucial to my diagnosis, treatment and recovery. I would strongly encourage others to take immediate action and see their doctor if they’re worried about a symptom.”

Ask your dentist
Regular dental check-ups can also play a vital role in early diagnosis, with dentists looking out for early signs as part of their examinations.

Mr Simon Ellis, consultant in restorative dentistry at Poole Hospital said: “Dentists are in a good position to help detect mouth cancer at its early stage, when it’s easier to treat. This can greatly improve a patient’s outlook, so people shouldn’t be afraid to ask their dentist if they’ve carried out a full mouth check examination.”

Link to HPV
Traditionally, mouth cancers tend to be diagnosed in individuals over 50 and have been linked to smoking, drinking and poor diet. However, recently there has been an increase in mouth cancers related to the human papillomava virus (HPV).

Dr King, consultant head and neck surgeon at Poole Hospital said: “HPV is a very common virus group which can affect skin and mucosal areas of the body. Most HPV infections are removed by the patient’s immune system. There is one main sub-type of HPV that can cause mouth cancer. These cancers occur at the back of the mouth (or oropharynx) including the tonsil and the base of the tongue and most frequently in younger people. Although HPV-related cancers are the fastest increasing type of mouth cancers, they are also generally more responsive to treatment.”

During Mouth Cancer Awareness Week, mouth cancer specialists will be visiting local schools and colleges to raise awareness of risk factors and early warning signs, as well as the link with HPV.

There will be an information stand and cake sale in hospital’s dome entrance throughout the week from 10am-12pm. Volunteers from Head and Neck Dorset Support (HANDS), a patient led support group for people and their carers/families that have experienced head and neck cancer, will also be available to talk to people about their experiences.

For more information on Mouth Cancer Awareness Week, visit

About mouth cancer

Oral cancers can develop in any part of the mouth including the tongue, gums, tonsils, lining of the mouth, lips and upper part of the throat.

The chances of getting mouth cancer are significantly reduced by:

  • Stopping smoking
  • Limiting the amount of alcohol you drink
  • Eating healthily
  • Reducing the risk of contracting HPV

Date: 7 November 2012

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