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ORAL CANCER

Mouth cancer can affect the lips, tongue, cheeks and throat.

There are 4,400 new cases and 1,700 deaths every year in the UK, and those figures are increasing each year.

Survival chances are much improved with early detection, so the number of deaths could be greatly reduced if people were more aware of the symptoms.

The first sign of mouth cancer is often a non-healing mouth ulcer or a red or white patch in the mouth. It is important that you examine your own mouth on a regular basis. If you have a mouth ulcer that hasn’t healed after three weeks, or you notice any unusual changes in your mouth you should visit your dentist as soon as possible for an examination.

Mouth cancer is most common in people over 40 who smoke or drink alcohol. It is also twice as likely to strike men as women.

However, the number of young people and women developing the condition has been increasing in recent years.

If mouth cancer is diagnosed in its early stages it can respond well to treatment and the chances of a complete cure are good. This is why regular dental check-ups are so important.

A healthy lifestyle can protect against mouth cancer

Smoking is the most common cause of mouth cancer, and can increase your risk of developing the condition by several times. Research has found that switching to low-tar cigarettes does not help either as users are likely to inhale more smoke to compensate.

Drinking alcohol to excess poses almost as big a risk as smoking when it comes to mouth cancer.

In addition, because alcohol helps tobacco to absorb into the mouth, people who smoke and drink to excess are up to 30 times more likely to develop the condition.

The important thing is not the type of drink consumed (e.g. lager, spirits) but the total volume of alcohol.

It is recommended that men drink no more than 3-4 units per day and women drink no more than 2-3. (One unit is equivalent to ½ pint of lager, a single measure of spirits or a small glass of wine).

There are other things you can do to help reduce your risk of developing mouth cancer:

  • Avoid excessive exposure to sunlight to help prevent lip cancer
  • Eat green and yellow fresh fruit and vegetables every day - bananas, peppers, broccoli, beans and cabbage are good sources of beta-carotene that can help to prevent other cancers too
  • Get medical advice if an ulcer or white or red patch does not clear after three weeks
  • Visit your dentist at least once a year
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