A healthy lifestyle can protect
against mouth cancer
Mouth cancer can affect the lips,
tongue, cheeks and throat.
There are 4,400 new cases and
1,700 deaths every year in the UK, and those figures are increasing
Survival chances are much improved with early
detection, so the number of deaths could be greatly reduced if
people were more aware of the symptoms.
The first sign of
mouth cancer is often a non-healing mouth ulcer or a red or white
patch in the mouth. It is important that you examine your own mouth
on a regular basis. If you have a mouth ulcer that hasnít healed
after three weeks, or you notice any unusual changes in your mouth
you should visit your dentist as soon as possible for an
Mouth cancer is most common in people over 40
who smoke or drink alcohol. It is also twice as likely to strike men
However, the number of young people and women
developing the condition has been increasing in recent
You can cut your risk of developing mouth cancer by
living a healthy lifestyle.
If mouth cancer is diagnosed in
its early stages it can respond well to treatment and the chances of
a complete cure are good. This is why regular dental check-ups are
Smoking is the most common cause of mouth cancer, and can
increase your risk of developing the condition by several times.
Research has found that switching to low-tar cigarettes does not
help either as users are likely to inhale more smoke to
The risk is the same for users of all forms of tobacco, including
chewing tobacco, paan, areca nut and gutkha.
How can I stop smoking?
- speak to your pharmacist about nicotine replacement such as
chewing gum or patches
- contact a local group that can offer advice and support.
Although much less documented, drinking alcohol to excess poses
almost as big a risk as smoking when it comes to mouth cancer.
In addition, because alcohol helps tobacco to absorb into the
mouth, people who smoke and drink to excess are up to 30 times more
likely to develop the condition.
The important thing is not
the type of drink consumed (e.g. lager, spirits) but the total
volume of alcohol.
It is recommended that men drink no more
than 3-4 units per day and women drink no more than 2-3. (One unit
is equivalent to Ĺ pint of lager, a single measure of spirits or a
small glass of wine)
There are other things you can do to help reduce your risk of
developing mouth cancer:
- avoid excessive exposure to sunlight to help prevent lip
- eat green and yellow fresh fruit and vegetables every day -
bananas, peppers, broccoli, beans and cabbage are good sources of
beta-carotene that can help to prevent other cancers too
- get medical advice if an ulcer or white or red patch does not
clear after three weeks
Treating mouth cancer
The treatment will depend on the
stage and site of the cancer and the effect of the treatment on
functions such as speech, chewing, and swallowing.
treatment option can unfortunately cause unwanted side effects. So
the quality of the patient's life can be drastically affected within
the first few months of treatment.
However, treatment of
mouth cancer is necessary and important and the chances of long-term
survival are much better if the cancer is treated early.
Patients may need surgery to remove
the cancer. If the cancer has spread, it may be necessary to remove
parts of the jaw or neck.
The patientís stay in hospital will
depend on the extent of the surgery and whether or not they have had
skin or tissue grafts.
Surgery can be disfiguring and
therefore distressing for the patient to cope with. The Organisation
Changing Faces can provide invaluable advice and support for
is the use of high-energy rays from a machine with beam that can be
aimed as accurately as possible to damage the cancer cells and stop
It affects only the cells in the treated
area. It can also be used after surgery to make sure that all the
cancer has been removed.
External radiotherapy usually
involves the patient visiting the hospital everyday for around six
weeks, although this will vary according to the needs of the
involves putting metal rods or pellets containing radioactive
material directly onto the cancer or the surrounding
The implant is left in for about seven days. During
this time the patient has to stay in hospital, and time with
visitors and care staff is limited, so that they are not exposed to
In some cases, internal and external
radiotherapy can be used together.
Radiation damages the
salivary glands. Because of this, loss of taste and dry mouth is a
common side effect. Fortunately, it is possible to relieve the
symptoms of dry mouth using special medications.
Chemotherapy involves using
specific drugs to kill the cancer cells.
These are swallowed
or injected into the vein to enter the bloodstream and reduce the
Chemotherapy can also be used to shrink the
cancer before surgery.
The most common side effect of
chemotherapy is feeling sick and being sick, and hair loss is also
likely. Chemotherapy can also cause anaemia, dry mouth, mouth sores
and people may become depressed.