Mouth cancer can affect the lips, gums, tongue, cheeks and throat. The majority of cases are preventable and this is a type of cancer which is particularly reliant on early detection to increase survival rates. If caught early, patients with mouth cancer have a nine in ten chance of survival, but sadly the disease currently kills more than 2,000 people each year in the UK - more than testicular and cervical cancer combined.
The signs and symptoms not to ignore are:
It is vital to be aware of any changes in the mouth as this may be an indication that something is wrong.
Mouth cancer is often recognised by a dentist during a mouth examination, as dentists are able to see parts of the mouth which are not easily accessible. In best practice, once something unusual is identified, a patient should be referred to a specialist consultant at a local hospital, who will perform a detailed examination. Where there is an unusual ulcer or lesion, a biopsy should be taken and tests carried out. This might entail general health checks, X-rays or scans. If mouth cancer is detected and a diagnosis confirmed, medical professionals should then advise on the best course of action to treat the disease.
Frankie Rhodes, an associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, said: “Mouth cancer is becoming increasingly prevalent in today’s society, particularly as a result of a greater risk from smoking/chewing tobacco, poor diet and alcohol consumption. Many people suffering from mouth cancer unfortunately miss the signs and visit their dentist or doctor too late. However, as a team, we also see instances where there have been failures to refer patients, where examinations are carried out improperly or not undertaken at all and where test results are misinterpreted. All of these common errors can lead to mismanagement of mouth cancer and delays in identifying the source of the problem and providing a correct diagnosis. This can, of course, have a devastating impact on patients’ lives, causing unnecessary pain, distress and in the worst cases, loss of life.”
Mouth cancer can be incredibly difficult to deal with and the recovery period can include problems with breathing, eating, drinking, swallowing and speech. Radiotherapy may cause difficulties with a dry mouth and affect taste buds. Surgical intervention can lead to issues with swallowing and chewing, and can put patients at high risk of infection. In rarer cases, patients who have contracted mouth cancer can suffer from loss of speech and facial disfigurement. Patients should have access to speech therapy, dietary counselling, emotional support and reconstructive or plastic surgery where needed.