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Mouth Cancer – You could be at risk? If in doubt, get checked out


“A simple 45 second check is often all that is needed to identify anything unusual and be able to seek professional guidance.”

Around 200 people are diagnosed with cancer of the mouth in Northern Ireland each year. With this in mind health professionals from the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB), Public Health Agency (PHA) and Cancer Focus Northern Ireland are urging people to be mouth cancer aware and recognise the early warning signs during November.

Brid Hendron, Regional Lead for Dental Public Health at the Board, said: “The number of people being diagnosed with oral cancer is increasing, particularly in females and in younger people. As with many diseases of the mouth, mouth cancer can have a devastating effect on our wellbeing affecting how we eat, breathe, talk and smile. This is well recognised by anyone who has ever suffered a toothache or dental infection. A simple 45 second check is often all that is needed to identify anything unusual and be able to seek professional guidance.”

Mouth cancer is a general term for cancer of the mouth, including the lip, gums, throat and tongue with the lining of the mouth being the most common site for the cancer. If you notice red or white patches, have an ulcer that does not heal after a few weeks, notice a swelling or lump then we would urge you to attend a dental surgery for a check-up or raise the matter with your GP. Dentists, dental hygienists and therapists are highly skilled at screening for mouth cancer and will do so automatically when you attend for your check-up. Registering with a dental practice and attending for screening is an invaluable way of increasing the number of cancers diagnosed at an early stage.

Siobhan O’Brien, Health and Wellbeing Senior Officer at the PHA said: “It is vital that as many people as possible take 45 seconds to check for changes in the mouth. This habit of carrying out a “mouth check”, similar to the “breast check” advised for women, could save lives. Many of the causes of oral cancer involve life style choices such as smoking, frequent alcohol intake and sun exposure.”

It is important to know what you can do to reduce your risk:-

Gerry McElwee, Head of Cancer Prevention for Cancer Focus NI, said: “In addition to early detection it is of paramount importance to know what you can do to reduce your risk of developing mouth cancer. It is important to stop smoking and Cancer Focus NI can give you advice and support to help you quit. We also advise that if you drink alcohol, limit your intake, and eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables daily.”

Further information and an information leaflet ‘Focus on Mouth Cancer’ is available online at www.cancerfocusni.org. Cancer Focus NI provides information and support to people worried about, or affected by cancer. For advice contact their Information and Support Helpline on 0800 783 3339 which is available free from a landline from Monday to Friday, 9am to 1pm, or by email at helpline@cancerfocusni.org.