Why oral cancer screening is as important as ever

Over the last year, 8,337 people in the UK were diagnosed with mouth cancer. Numbers continue to rise, and the disease claims more lives than cervical and testicular cancer combined. The more we know about mouth cancer, the better our chance of beating it. This means knowing how to spot mouth cancer early and where to go when seeing something out of the ordinary. It also means reducing our risk by cutting down on the things that cause mouth cancer.

It is vital that we know how to spot mouth cancer early and regularly check for unusual changes in the mouth. To help you do this, we have put together a short video showing you how to do this. Mouth cancer picked up at stage one has an 80% five-year survival rate, so regular checks are crucial.

We must also understand what is likely to cause mouth cancer and reduce our risk. Smoking, alcohol, and exposure to the HPV virus increase your risk of mouth cancer. The HPV virus  Other risk factors can include sun exposure, chewing tobacco and poor diet.

Smoking tobacco (cigarettes, pipes, cigars) increases your risk of developing mouth and oropharyngeal cancer. Research suggests that around 25% of oropharyngeal cancers in the UK are caused by smoking.  People who smoke are more at risk if they also drink alcohol and chew tobacco or betel quid. There is some evidence that people exposed to second-hand smoke (passive smoking) for a long time have a small increase in their risk of mouth and oropharyngeal cancer.

Drinking alcohol increases your risk of mouth and oropharyngeal cancer. It causes around 35% of mouth and oropharyngeal cancers in the UK. The UK guidelines recommend a maximum of 14 units of alcohol a week for both men and women.

The human papilloma virus (HPV) is a type of virus that infects the skin and the cells lining body cavities. It is estimated that around 80 out of 100 people (around 80%) will be infected with HPV at some time during their lifetime. For most people, HPV causes no harm and gets better on its own. But the virus can cause changes in the mouth and throat. These changes are more likely to become cancerous in the future. HPV spreads through close skin-to-skin contact, usually during sexual activity. The virus is very common. There are over 100 types of HPV, and each one has a number. The main type of HPV found in the mouth and oropharyngeal cancer is HPV 16. HPV causes around 25% of mouth and oropharyngeal cancers in the UK.

You must act quickly when you see something out of the ordinary by visiting your dentist to investigate it. Also, make sure you visit your dentist and hygienist for routine appointments, and if in between appointments you find any red or white patches, lumps or bumps that last longer than 14 days, visit your dentist immediately.

At every hygienist appointment, we carry out a mouth cancer screening, which is recorded in your notes. If we find anything suspicious, we will refer you to Dr Wilson or Mr Luis Bruzual, our in-house oral surgeon, which means no long hospital waiting lists.

And remember, the Oral Health Foundation recommends that we all carry out our own screening once a month. Please ask our hygienist if you need any advice on carrying out your screening.



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E. Richards

“Another great CPD evening on occlusion last week. Keep up with the study club programme as it is a great opportunity for us GDPs to stay up to date and meet other colleagues in the profession.”

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