November is Mouth Cancer Action Month, so there is really no better time to share vital information on how to spot the signs of mouth cancer. When caught early, the chances of survival of mouth cancer increase to nine out of ten, which are fairly good odds. However, knowing the warning signs is crucial to preventing mouth cancer going undetected, and we’d like to share with our patients all the indications they should be looking out for in order to stay safe and informed.
Mouth cancer is crafty and can manifest in a number of different tissues in your mouth. These could include your lips, tongue, gums, and cheeks. It’s extremely important to learn the warning signs and check your mouth monthly. There are three signs that, if they appear in any of these areas of your mouth, you should seek a professional opinion from your dentist or doctor. Be aware of mouth ulcers that don’t heal after three weeks, red and white patches in your mouth, and lumps and swellings.
Head and neck – Check if both sides of your neck look the same and search for any lumps, bumps, or swellings that appear on one side but not the other. Feel and press along the sides and front of your neck and note any tenderness or lumps.
Lips – Pull down your lower lip and look at the tissue for any sores or changes in colour. Note that these may appear as stubborn mouth ulcers, so keep an eye on how long these ulcers last for before healing. Use a thumb and finger to feel the lip for any unusual lumps or changes in texture. You should do this on both your upper and lower lip.
Cheeks – In front of a mirror or with the help of your dentist, pull your cheek aside so that you can see the inside tissue. Check for red, white, or dark patches that you haven’t noticed before. Then, place a finger on the inside of the cheek and your thumb on the outside so that if you pressed down, you could feel a pinch. Gently squeeze and roll the cheek to check for any lumps, take note of any tenderness or ulcers, and do this to both cheeks.
Roof of your mouth – You will need a dentist’s assistance when checking the roof of your mouth properly. Tilt your head back and open your mouth wide so your dentist can check the roof for any lumps or discolouration.
Tongue – Stick your tongue out and move it from one side to another, checking for any swelling, discolouration, or lumps on either side of it. Check the surface for any changes in colour or texture, and then take a look at the underside by placing the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth.
Floor of the mouth – Finally, we need to check the floor of your mouth. Press your finger along the floor of your mouth and underside of your tongue to feel for swelling, lumps, and ulcers. As always, check for any discolouration too.
We all know someone who has been affected by cancer in one way or another, so it’s important we stay vigilant when checking ourselves. Although mouth cancer can affect anybody, around 91% of all diagnoses are linked to lifestyle. This means that you can amend your lifestyle choices to help protect yourself from developing mouth cancer that is partially preventable. Risk factors of mouth cancer include tobacco, alcohol, HPV, chewing tobacco, and heavy alcohol consumption.
Mouth cancer, when caught early, has an impressive survival rate, but it does need to be caught in the first place to secure this. This November, and every month onwards, let’s all make the effort to check our mouths and necks for the warning signs of mouth and stay safe.
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