18th November 2020

THE ORAL HEALTH FOUNDATION is today asking everybody to conduct a quick 45-second check for mouth cancer as part of Blue Wednesday, which hopes to raise awareness of the disease.

The number of people diagnosed with mouth cancer in the UK has risen by 97% in the twenty years while awareness around the disease remains worryingly low. Last year, 8,722 people were diagnosed with mouth cancer while 2,702 lost their lives to the disease. Despite mouth cancer rates hitting record highs, British adults are almost three times more likely to check themselves for breast or testicular for cancer.

New research by the charity shows more than four-in-five (83%) do not know what to look for when checking for signs of mouth cancer while just under two-thirds (62%) say they have never checked themselves for the disease.

Blue Wednesday forms part of Mouth Cancer Action Month, a campaign held throughout November and run by the Oral Health Foundation and sponsored by Denplan, part of Simplyhealth. The charity campaign, which is marking its 20th anniversary, aims to raise awareness of mouth cancer and help make more people ‘mouthaware’ when it comes to the disease.

Mouth cancer checks are quick and simple, and should be part of your daily bathroom routine. The five basic steps are as follows:

  1. Check your head and neck for any unusual lumps or bumps.
  2. Move to the inside of your mouth. Check your tongue for any unusual red or white patch, lump or an ulcer that has lasted for longer than three weeks. Make sure to check both sides and underneath.
  3. Run your finger along the inside of both your cheeks. Are there any lumps or bumps? Again, can you see any red or white patches?
  4. Look at the roof of your mouth. It can be tricky to get the right angle so you will need to tilt your head back slightly. Also, run your finger along the roof of your mouth to check for any lumps or swelling.
  5. Finally, check your lips. Simply use your thumb and index fingers to pull down your lip and check for any red or white patches or lumps. Do this for both your top and bottom lip.

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, highlights the importance of being mouthaware and knowing where to go if you spot something out of the ordinary.

Dr Carter says:  “It is really important to be vigilant when it comes to mouth cancer.  By being able to identify the early warning signs and knowing where mouth cancer can appear, you give yourself the very best chance of beating the disease.  With mouth cancer in the UK increasing, make sure to check yourself for mouth cancer for Blue Wednesday, and allow it to become part of a monthly routine.

“If you notice anything unusual, make an appointment to see your dentist or GP.  If in doubt, get checked out.”   

Catherine Rutland, Clinical Director at Denplan, part of Simplyhealth agrees and also notes how catching mouth cancer early can greatly increase your chances of survival and a better quality of life.

Dr Rutland says: “If mouth cancer is spotted early, the chances of a complete cure are good. However, too many people present late because they do not have regular dental examinations. For a significant proportion of patients, a delay of three to six months in diagnosis and treatment will affect the likelihood of achieving long-term survival.

“Around 2,702 people in the United Kingdom lose their life to mouth cancer every year.  That's seven people every day. It is widely recognised that many of these deaths could be prevented by early diagnosis. Early detection is by far the most important factor, as the stage at which mouth cancer is diagnosed has the most significant effect on overall survival as mouth (and throat) cancer can grow very quickly.

“Encouraging patients to self-examine and become familiar with the normal state of their mouth (and head and neck) is also very important. To help raise patient awareness of the signs and symptoms of mouth cancer, the Oral Health Foundation have developed a range of excellent patient education resources available on their website.”

Laura Gray was diagnosed with tongue cancer just days after her 47th birthday. As someone who had always led a generally healthy life, Laura was surprised to find out that she had mouth cancer.  

Laura says: “The diagnosis came as a complete shock to me.  In the lead up to my diagnosis I had been experiencing some problems with my tongue.  Speech became a little more difficult and I started to have reactions to certain foods and drinks.  Shortly before diagnosis, an ulcer appeared and became painful.  I had never thought that I was at risk of having mouth cancer. 

“Everyone needs to be aware that they are at risk of mouth cancer and educated in how to self-check their mouth and neck for the early signs.  It has already been done successfully for breast and testicular cancers, so why not mouth cancers?”

For more information about mouth cancer, including how to do a self-check for the disease, visit www.mouthcancer.org