The Oral Health Foundation (OHF) is asking everyone to conduct a quick 45-second check for oral cancer as part of Blue Wednesday, which aims to raise awareness of the disease.
The number of people diagnosed with oral cancer in the United Kingdom has risen by 97% in the past 20 years while awareness about the disease remains worryingly low, the OHF said. Last year, 8,722 people were diagnosed with oral cancer in the UK, while 2,702 dies.
Despite oral cancer rates hitting record highs, the OHF continued, British adults are almost three times more likely to check themselves for breast or testicular cancer than for oral cancer.
Also, the OHF said, 83% of people don’t know what to look for when they’re checking for signs of oral cancer, while 62% said they have never checked themselves for the disease.
Blue Wednesday is part of Mouth Cancer Action Month, an OHF campaign held throughout November sponsored by Denplan, part of Simplyhealth. Celebrating its twentieth anniversary, the campaign aims to raise awareness of oral cancer.
Oral cancer checks are quick and simple and should be part of everyone’s daily bathroom routine, the OHF said. Its five basic steps include:
- Check your head and neck for any unusual lumps or bumps.
- Move to the inside of your mouth. Check your tongue for any unusual red or white patches, lumps, or ulcers that have lasted for longer than three weeks. Make sure to check both sides and underneath.
- Run your finger along the inside of both your cheeks. Are there any lumps or bumps? Again, can you see any red or white patches?
- Look at the roof of your mouth. It can be tricky to get the right angle, so you will need to tilt your head back slightly. Also, run your finger along the roof of your mouth to check for any lumps or swelling.
- Finally, check your lips. Simply use your thumb and index fingers to pull down your lip and check for any red or white patches or lumps. Do this for both your top and bottom lip.
“It is really important to be vigilant when it comes to mouth cancer,” said Dr. Nigel Carter, OHF chief executive.
“By being able to identify the early warning signs and knowing where mouth cancer can appear, you give yourself the very best chance of beating the disease. With mouth cancer in the UK increasing, make sure to check yourself for mouth cancer for Blue Wednesday, and allow it to become part of a monthly routine,” Carter said.
“If you notice anything unusual, make an appointment to see your dentist or GP. If in doubt, get checked out,” Carter said.
“If mouth cancer is spotted early, the chances of a complete cure are good. However, too many people present late because they do not have regular dental examinations,” said Catherine Rutland, clinical director at Denplan.
“For a significant proportion of patients, a delay of three to six months in diagnosis and treatment will affect the likelihood of achieving long-term survival,” Rutland said.
“Around 2,702 people in the United Kingdom lose their life to mouth cancer every year. That’s seven people every day. It is widely recognized that many of these deaths could be prevented by early diagnosis,” Rutland said.
“Early detection is by far the most important factor, as the stage at which mouth cancer is diagnosed has the most significant effect on overall survival as mouth (and throat) cancer can grow very quickly,” she said.
“Encouraging patients to self-examine and become familiar with the normal state of their mouth (and head and neck) is also very important. To help raise patient awareness of the signs and symptoms of mouth cancer, the Oral Health Foundation have developed a range of excellent patient education resources available on their website,” Rutland said.
Laura Gray was diagnosed with tongue cancer just days after her forty-seventh birthday. As someone who had always led a generally healthy life, she was surprised to find out that she had oral cancer.
“The diagnosis came as a complete shock to me. In the lead up to my diagnosis, I had been experiencing some problems with my tongue. Speech became a little more difficult, and I started to have reactions to certain foods and drinks,” she said.
“Shortly before diagnosis, an ulcer appeared and became painful. I had never thought that I was at risk of having mouth cancer,” she said.
“Everyone needs to be aware that they are at risk of mouth cancer and educated in how to self-check their mouth and neck for the early signs. It has already been done successfully for breast and testicular cancers, so why not mouth cancers?” she said.
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