Mouth Cancer: Symptoms, Treatment And Risk Factors Explained

Mouth Cancer: The Lowdown On Symptoms, Treatment And Who Is At Risk

Mouth cancer, although relatively uncommon (it accounts for one in 50 of all cancer cases), is still a potentially fatal disease due to the late stage at which it's often diagnosed.

According to Jean-Pierre Jeannon, consultant ear, nose and throat surgeon at London Bridge Hospital, this type of cancer "can affect any part of the mouth lip, tongue or floor of mouth and tends to be an aggressive form of cancer, so the earlier it's detected the better the outcome".

He added: "The survival for stage 1 (earliest form) is 90% whereas for stage 4 (most advanced) less than 20% of patients survive."

With that in mind, it's worth knowing the warning signs to catch it early.

The main symptoms of mouth cancer are: sore mouth ulcers that don't heal within several weeks, lumps in the mouth that don't go away, and lumps in the lymph glands in the neck that don't go away.

Jeannon explained: "Mouth cancer usually presents itself as a persistent ulcer or lump in the mouth. It is different from an aphthous or stress ulcer which comes and goes and affects different parts of the mouth.

"A neck lump due to a swollen lymph node can also be the first sign of mouth cancer."

These are the other symptoms to watch out for, according to the NHS:

:: pain or difficulty when swallowing

:: changes in your voice or speech problems

:: unexplained weight loss

:: bleeding or numbness in the mouth

:: a tooth, or teeth, that becomes loose for no obvious reason

:: difficulty moving your jaw

:: red or white patches on the lining of your mouth.

Men are three times more likely to get mouth cancers compared to women. It tends to affect older people so the disease is rare under the age of 40. Heavy alcohol drinkers and smokers are also most at risk, as are women who have not received the HPV vaccine.

Jeannon said prevention is by far the best policy in avoiding cancer, and mouth cancer is no exception. Preventative measures, which are most effective, include:

:: Stopping smoking

:: Avoiding excess alcohol consumption

:: Maintaining healthy teeth and having a regular dental check-up

:: HPV virus which also causes cervical cancer is a risk for mouth cancer so safe sex (including oral sex) reduces your risk.

On that last note hormone specialist, Jen Landa, commented on HuffPost that "the percentage of mouth and throat cancers caused by HPV is rising sharply, from only 16% in the 1980s to approximately 73% of the mouth and throat cancers in the year 2000".

"The incidence of mouth and throat cancers is rising as well. From 1988 to 2004, there was a 28% increase in the risk of mouth and throat cancers, primarily in men ages 50 to 59," she added.

There are two treatment types, as suggested by Jeannon. The main treatment type is surgery to remove the tumour. This may also result in reconstructive surgery.

Additionally, depending on the severity of the cancer, radiotherapy (x-ray treatment) may also be needed. Chemotherapy is an option too.