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Two thirds of Britons unable to spot mouth cancer signs, poll suggests

Public awareness needs to increase to make sure the disease is picked up early and curb rise in cases, says Oral Health Foundation

Caroline White

Friday, 15 November 2019

Two thirds of Britons are completely unaware of the main signs and symptoms of mouth cancer, suggest the results of a poll carried out by the Oral Health Foundation and Denpaln for Mouth Cancer Action Month.

This low level of public awareness is worrying as it makes it more difficult to treat the disease at an early stage, and curb the rise in the number of new cases, warns the Oral Health Foundation.

The results of their poll show that two out of three (66%) of those questioned had no idea of the main signs and symptoms associated with the disease while nearly three in four (74%) respondents had never checked their mouth for signs of cancer.

Mouth cancer survivor and ambassador for the Foundation, Karen Liesching-Schroder said that people should learn from her experience and go to their GP or dentist at the first signs that something might be wrong.

“When a previously troublesome ulcer reappeared and refused to go, I just ignored it for two months. By the time I saw my GP, the pain had become excruciating and had begun to affect my speech,” she explained.

“I’m a healthy person. I run, don’t smoke, don’t drink much and eat healthy food. Mouth cancer can happen to anyone. The sooner you get a problem checked out the sooner it can be sorted. Chances are it’ll be fine but in the rare case it isn’t, it could be a life saver.”

Mouth cancer can appear in several places, including the cheeks, gums, lips, tongue and tonsils. It can also occur on the roof and floor of the mouth, as well as the head and neck.

The early warning signs include a mouth ulcer that doesn’t heal within three weeks, red or white patches in the mouth, or unusual lumps or swellings on the head or neck.

In the UK, 8,337 people were diagnosed with mouth cancer last year, meaning that cases have doubled within the past 30 years. 

Dentist Dr Ben Atkins and trustee of the Oral Health Foundation, commented: “Awareness of mouth cancer remains extremely poor and many cases are caught far too late.” 

He urged people to be mouth aware and alert to any unusual changes to the mouth, head or neck. A simple check takes around 40 seconds and could save a life.

The survey responses show that more than two thirds (68%) of those polled didn’t know that red or white patches can be a sign of mouth cancer while a similar number (63%) don’t associate long-lasting mouth ulcers with the disease.

Over half (55%) didn’t know that lumps and swellings in the head or neck are a potential sign of mouth cancer. 

Most respondents (80%) don’t link the taste of blood to mouth cancer while more than three out of four (76%) don’t think hoarseness is a potential sign of the disease.    

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