Over 400 cases of Mouth, Head & Neck Cancer (MHNC) are diagnosed every year in Ireland. Mouth, head & neck cancer can affect your lips, gums cheeks, tongue, palate, tonsils, throat (oropharynx), salivary glands, sinuses, nose and voice box (larynx).
Oral cancer incidence increases with age. The incidence of oral cancer is considerably higher in males than in females, although more women are being diagnosed in recent years.
Both smoking and alcohol are important independent risk factors and there is now convincing evidence that their combined effect is greater than the sum of the risks associated with either. Also there is evidence of a dose response between tobacco smoking, the more one smokes the greater the risk of oral cancer.
Although oral cancer can occur without any pre-cancer signs, there are a number of well established pre-cancerous lesions also linked with smoking and alcohol consumption. Many of these have a whitish colour and may not be painful.
While the number of these lesions such as leukoplakia which will become cancerous is extremely low, nevertheless a considerably higher proportion of people with these lesions develop oral cancer.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of mouth, head and neck cancer can include:
A sore or ulcer in your mouth that does not heal
White or red patches inside the mouth
A lump in the mouth or neck
Thickening or hardening of the cheek or tongue
Difficulty chewing, swallowing or moving the tongue
Numbness of the tongue or face
A persistent sore throat and hoarseness
Persistent nosebleeds and a stuffy nose
Unexplained loose teeth.
Remember, these symptoms can also be due to complaints other than cancer. However if you have any of these symptoms, for more than three weeks, it is important that you have them checked by your dentist or doctor.
The key to the prevention of oral cancer is not to smoke tobacco or give up smoking if already smoking and adopt a sensible approach to the consumption of alcohol. Early diagnosis has been clearly established as important for a successful outcome hence, regular dental check-ups, (every two years for adults) whether you have your own natural teeth or dentures are strongly advised.
Dental Health Foundation Ireland