Mouth Cancer

What is mouth cancer?

Mouth cancer, sometimes known as oral cancer, is a form of cancer that comes about within the mouth (also known as the oral cavity). Mouth cancer can develop in the lips, tongue, gums and the roof of the mouth. Mouth cancer is relatively uncommon, but figures suggest a slight rise in numbers and it tends to affect older people (it is very rare among people under the age of 50) and it is much more widespread in men than women.

What are the causes of mouth cancer?

The major risk factors for mouth cancer include:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol: smoking and drinking augments your chances of developing mouth cancer significantly

Other risk factors include:

  • A poor diet
  • Contact with the HPV (human papilloma virus)
  • Sun exposure

Symptoms of mouth cancer

The most common symptoms of mouth cancer include:

  • Mouth ulcers that take a long time to heal (this symptom is present in 80 percent of people with the disease)
  • Persistent pain or discomfort in the mouth

Other symptoms and signs to look out for include:

  • White or red patches in the mouth or throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Feeling like you have a lump in your throat
  • Speech problems
  • A lump in the neck
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unexplained bleeding in the mouth

How is mouth cancer diagnosed?

If you have the symptoms of mouth cancer your GP will ask a specialist to perform additional tests. Your dentist is also able to spot symptoms of mouth cancer and they may encourage you to see your GP. At the hospital you will be asked questions about your lifestyle and tests, including a nasoendoscopy and a biopsy, will be carried out. The results of the test will be used to confirm the diagnosis.

What treatments are available for mouth cancer?

A treatment plan will produced for each individual patient depending on the period of the cancer and the individual's general health. The multi-disciplinary team will choose the type of treatment, which may include surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Sometimes a combination of treatments may be used.

What is the outlook for mouth cancer?

As with many forms of cancer, the outlook for mouth cancer depends on the time of diagnosis. Early diagnosis and treatment can increase survival rates significantly, but if the cancer is diagnosed at an advanced phase the outlook become less positive. Around 50 percent of people diagnosed with cancer of the oral cavity survive for at least five years subsequent to diagnosis.

Living with mouth cancer

It is easier said than done to grasp that you have mouth cancer, so if you need any help, support, or you purely want to converse with someone without seeing them face to face, you are more than welcome to get in touch with the cancer charities operating in the UK. Your care team will also be on hand to offer support and answer any questions you may have.

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