19 December 2016

The Oral Health Foundation is calling for greater emotional support of elderly mouth cancer patients following a new study which has shown that they are at a significantly high risk of being admitted to hospital due to depression. 

The research, published in Gerodontology, found that men over the age of fifty who were suffering from mouth cancer were 56% more likely to be admitted to hospital with depression.

Leading charity, the Oral Health Foundation, believe many of these emotional issues come as a result of the significant problems mouth cancer patients face due to the nature of their treatment, which often affects the ability to communicate, eat, drink and even breath.

The charity is appealing to the family, friends and carers of mouth cancer sufferers to be vigilant as to their emotional state and to try and offer them the support they need to help them avoid any psychological problems which could affect the outcome of their treatment.

Speaking on the issue Dr Nigel Carter OBE, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation, said: "This research is extremely concerning when you consider that most people who are diagnosed with mouth cancer are men over the age of 50. We must be alert to this issue and offer comprehensive emotional support, even before they are diagnosed.

"A patient's emotional state has such a huge impact on the potential outcome of their illness. Research shows that many mouth cancer patients who are suffering from depression are less likely to participate in important treatment decisions and to seek the medical and emotional support needed to achieve a positive outcome in their illness.

When looking at data covering all ages, the research found that all male head and neck cancer (HNC) patients were 28% more likely to be admitted to hospital with depression while for women the problem was even larger, with a 31% increase in likelihood of hospital admission.

"The very nature of mouth cancer treatment is undoubtedly a major issue here," added Dr Carter. "It can deprive sufferers of many of the basic things which we often take for granted, simple things like the ability to say hello or have a conversation, or feed themselves, or even breath have such a huge impact that it is unsurprising that many patients are at risk of depression.

"We have to all be alert to this problem. I am urging patients to reach out to their friends, family and carers if they feel they need of any support and also to get into contact with cancer support groups, such as The Swallows or Macmillan, who can help them come to terms with elements of their illness."

Latest statistics from Cancer Research UK revealed head and cancers have increased by 68% over the last 20 years. Now diagnosed in 11,449 Brits a year, it is now one of very few cancers which is continuing to see a rise in the number of cases.

The Oral Health Foundation's Dental Helpline, which offers free and impartial oral health advice, can also reassure and signpost you to any information and support services. The Dental Helpline can be reached by telephone on 01788 539 780 or by email at [email protected]