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For Mouth Cancer Action Month, information development nurse Teri writes about symptoms, causes and risk factors and diagnosis of mouth cancer.
The ease with which most of us can talk and eat is something many of us do not think twice about. However, being diagnosed with mouth cancer can change how easily we carry out these daily actions.
So, it’s important to be aware of what to look out for. And when it’s important to go to your GP or dentist to get possible symptoms of mouth cancer checked. Seeing your GP or dentist as soon as you notice any unusual changes increases the chance of being diagnosed early. When it’s diagnosed early, mouth cancer is easier to treat. There will also likely be fewer side effects to speech and diet.
Mouth cancer is also referred to as oral cancer. The part of the throat (pharynx) that is just behind the mouth, is called the oropharynx. Each year around 7,800 new cases of mouth and oropharyngeal cancer are diagnosed in the UK.
We have more information about symptoms and diagnosis of oropharyngeal cancer.
Mouth cancer can develop in any part of the mouth including the:
Below is an illustration of the different parts of the mouth:
What are the causes and risk factors of mouth cancer?
The main causes of mouth cancer are:
Your risk of developing mouth cancer is higher if you do both.
Other things that may increase your risk of mouth cancer are:
Exposure to sunlight over a prolonged period of time increases the risk of developing cancer on the outside of the lip.
What are symptoms of mouth cancer to look out for?
The most common symptom of mouth cancer is an ulcer or sore that does not heal in 3 weeks. This may be in the mouth or on the lip.
Other symptoms may include:
If you have any symptoms that you’re worried about, go to your GP or dentist. They will examine your mouth using a small light and mirror. If they think that your symptoms could be caused by cancer, or they aren't sure what the problem is, they will refer you to a specialist doctor.
You might need to have a test called a nasendoscope. This is done in an out-patient clinic. The doctor passes a thin, flexible tube into your nose, over the back of your tongue and down into the upper part of your throat. They will remove a small piece of tissue or some cells from the area that looks abnormal. This is called a biopsy.
If your only symptom is a lump in your neck, you may be referred to a hospital that has a neck lump clinic. This is a one-stop clinic where you can have all the tests needed to check for cancer in a neck lump. The clinic can often give you the results of your tests on the same day, but sometimes you may need to wait longer.
If a diagnosis is made, you may need other tests.
You can read more about mouth cancers in our online information about head and neck cancers. You may find our free booklet Understanding head and neck cancers helpful. You can also listen online or order the audiobook here.
You can call our cancer information nurse specialists free on 0808 808 00 00, Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm, with any questions you have about signs, symptoms, risks or diagnosis of mouth cancers. Or you can use our online Ask a nurse service.
To see what else Macmillan's cancer information team has been blogging about, please visit our blog home page! You can subscribe to receive our blogs by email or RSS too.
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