There are over 300 cases of mouth cancer in Ireland each year – about half are diagnosed early. Earlier diagnosis means easier treatment, better outcomes and a higher quality of life after treatment.
Regular dental check-ups should include an examination of the entire mouth for early detection of cancerous and precancerous conditions. But you should also be aware of what to look for.
Mouth cancer can affect the lips, gums, cheeks, tongue, palate, tonsil, throat,
salivary glands, nose and voice box (larynx). If you see any of the signs or symptoms below, get them checked out by dentist.
• A sore or ulcer in your mouth or on the lip that does not heal
• Difficulty or pain on chewing and swallowing
• Persistent sore throat, hoarse voice or difficulty speaking
• Unexplained loose tooth
• A lump in the mouth or neck
• Persistent pain in the face or jaw
• Numbness of the tongue or face
• Persistent nose bleeds and blocked or stuffy nose
• Persistent white or red patches on the inside lining of the mouth or on the tongue
The value of an oral examination
Most mouth cancers can be detected early with a simple screening examination, as part of a regular dental check-up. If the dentist finds an obvious cause for the signs or symptoms, they might be able to provide prompt treatment. But some signs may require more detailed investigation – like a biopsy or referral to a specialist. Regular dental check-ups are vital in early diagnosis of mouth cancer.
Mouth cancer occurs more frequently in men than women, particularly in men over 50. This trend is changing with the incidence in women, including younger women, increasing at a rate of 3% a year since 1994.
Factors that can increase risk of mouth cancer:
• Smoking or chewing tobacco, combined with heavy alcohol consumption,
• Prolonged exposure of facial area to sunshine, especially amongst farmers
• Working with certain chemicals or dusts increases risk of cancer in nasal area
• Human papilloma virus (HPV) through sexual contact can increase risk of
• A diet low in fruit and vegetables increases risk of mouth cancer