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Mouth cancer symptoms: Have you had this ‘persistent’ problem in your mouth? Warning sign

Mouth cancer, also known as oral cancer, is where a tumour develops in a part of the mouth. It may be on the surface of the tongue, the inside of the cheeks, the roof of the mouth (palate), the lips or gums. According to the NHS, early detection can boost your chance of survival from 50 percent to 90 percent.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has hampered efforts to get mouth cancer diagnosed and treated for both direct and indirect reasons.

Speaking to Express.co.uk, Dr Pretam Gharat, a leading UK dentist, explained: “The incidence of cancer hasn’t changed over the last few months despite the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the number of patients presenting at hospitals has reduced.

“This is because patients are deciding not to go to a doctor or specialist due to the impression that the hospital services are overwhelmed and due to the fear of catching the Coronavirus.”

Also, as Dr Gharat noted, because dentists were shut for normal services, accessing dentists and possible early diagnosis of oral cancers became a challenge.

Compounding the issue is the cost to mental health, which may indirectly raise your risk of mouth cancer.

Dr Gharat explained: “Another important consideration in these unprecedented times is the deteriorating mental health status of the population, which may lead to increase in alcohol consumption and smoking.

“The leading causes of mouth cancer in the UK are tobacco and alcohol. Tobacco and alcohol are carcinogenic i.e. they contain chemicals that can damage the DNA in human cells which may lead to cancer.

“The combination of alcohol and smoking increases the risk of oral cancer by 30 times.”

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So, what symptoms should you be looking for?

According to Dr Gharat, one symptom to watch out for is unexplained, persistent lumps in the mouth that do not go away.

Other symptoms include:

  • Sore mouth ulcers that do not heal for several weeks
  • A white or reddish patch on the inside of your mouth
  • Unexplained, persistent lumps in the lymph glands in the neck that do not go away
  • Pain or difficulty swallowing dysphagia
  • Changes in your voice
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • One or more teeth that becomes loose for no obvious reason, or a tooth socket that does not heal after tooth removal
  • Difficulty moving your jaw
  • Red or white patches in your mouth.

What should I do if I recognise these symptoms?

According to Dr Gharat, you should make an appointment with your doctor or dentist if you have any persistent signs and symptoms that bother you and last more than two weeks.

“Your dentist will investigate further, diagnose the problem and ensure that any treatment is made available as deemed suitable,” he said.

How to reduce your risk of mouth cancer

In addition to reducing your alcohol intake and avoiding smoking, you should also avoid excessive sun exposure to your lips, advised Dr Gharat.

“Protect the skin on your lips from the sun by staying in the shade,” he advised.

He continued: “Apply a sunscreen lip protecting product if you are planning to be out in the sun.”

You should also see your dentist regularly.

“As part of a routine dental exam, your dentist will inspect your entire mouth for abnormal regions that may indicate cancer or precancerous changes,” said Dr Gharat.

Treatment – what you need to know

According to the NHS, mouth cancer and its treatment can cause several complications, including changes to the appearance of your mouth, difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), and speech problems.

“These effects can sometimes cause emotional problems and withdrawal from normal life,” says the health body.

Some people find it helpful to talk to other people who have mouth cancer, either at a local support group or through an online chat room:

  • Cancer Research UK: Cancer Chat
  • Macmillan Cancer Support: online community

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