With just two days of Mouth Cancer Action Month left for 2019, Cancer focus Northern Ireland and the British Dental Association (BDA) have teamed up to raise awareness of the early signs of mouth cancer and encourage people to seek medical help if they have any concerns.

Cases of mouth cancer in Northern Ireland are expected to almost double by 2035, according to Cancer Focus Northern Ireland and the BDA. At present an average of 233 people in Northern Ireland are diagnosed with mouth cancer each year – many at a late stage, with 95 dying from the disease per year.

‘The main risk factors of mouth cancer are tobacco use and drinking alcohol and together these account for around 75% of mouth cancers’, said Gerry McElwee, head of cancer prevention at Cancer Focus NI. ‘People who both drink and use tobacco are up to 30 times more likely to develop the condition.

‘The human papilloma virus (HPV) is also a leading cause and the recent move to extend the HPV vaccine to include adolescent boys in Northern Ireland will save lives.

‘The message is clear: stop smoking, reduce your intake of alcohol, eat a healthy diet with at least five daily servings of fruit and vegetables and remember that early diagnosis can really make the difference. Make sure you visit a dentist and check your mouth regularly – it might just save your life.’

Raising awareness

For its part, the BDA aims to ensure that mouth cancer features strongly in the new Northern Ireland Cancer Strategy.

‘Clearly public awareness of mouth cancer compared with other cancers is low’, commented Caroline Lappin, chair of the BDA Northern Ireland Council. ‘This has got to change. It’s alarming that around 70% of mouth cancers are detected at a late stage because people don’t know the warning signs. This often results in lower chances of survival. However, early detection transforms survival chances to more than 90%.

‘It’s important to be “mouth aware”. Look out for any changes in the mouth such as an ulcer that doesn’t heal or any unusual changes in the mouth, lips, head and neck. Dentists can play an important role in detecting changes so do visit your dentist regularly and seek professional help if you have any concerns.’

For more information on mouth cancer visit www.cancerfocusni.org.