How to check yourself for mouth cancer
What is mouth cancer?
Why should I check my own mouth for mouth cancer?
What should a healthy mouth look like?
Before we talk about what mouth cancer looks like, lets have a look at what a healthy mouth should look like. The surfaces in your mouth should look pink and healthy like this:
All images above courtesy of Professor M A O Lewis
What should I look for in my mouth?
Check for changes in your mouth
- Any red or white patches, unusual lumps, swellings or ulcers that don’t heal in 3 weeks.
- Numbness, difficulty swallowing, chewing or moving your jaw or tongue.
- Sore throat or hoarseness for more than 6 weeks or feeling like something is caught in your throat.
- Unexplained loosening of your teeth.
How to do a mouth cancer self check
Or follow these 7 simple steps from Mouth Cancer Action that we’re currently giving out to our patients.
What does mouth cancer look like?
Have you ever thought about what mouth cancer might look like? I’m sure we all have different ideas.
Mouth cancer has many different appearances and as I’ve said can be found in different places in your mouth.
The pictures below show examples of some (not all) of the different appearances of mouth cancer and some (not all) of the places it can be found in your mouth.
Is this what you thought mouth cancer would look like?
The moral of the story is that if you see something in your mouth that you’re not sure about, get it checked out.
Mouth cancer on undersurface of tongue
Mouth cancer on side of tongue
Mouth cancer on floor of mouth underneath tongue
Mouth cancer on roof of mouth
Mouth cancer on gum
Mouth cancer on lip
All images above courtesy of Professor M A O Lewis
What should I do if I find something?
Ask Your Dentist How to Do a Mouth Check If You’re Not Sure.
What causes mouth cancer
Up to 90% of mouth cancers develop because of the way we live our lives.
· Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
- Smokeless tobacco
· UV light
having had certain cancers before
your family history
the state of your immune system
How to reduce your risk of getting mouth cancer
· Don’t smoke around children or other family members
· Reduce your alcohol intake to 14 units or less a week
Check out the alcohol guidelines for men and women.
· Practice safe sex
· Reduce your number of sexual partners
· Have your children (girls and boys) vaccinated against HPV
· Don’t chew tobacco
· Eat a healthy, balanced diet with lots of fruit and veg.
Foods high in Omega 3 and fibre are thought to help reduce your risk
· Use SPF 30+
including on your lips when exposed to the sun.
· Don’t use sunbeds
Mouth cancer is on the rise
Struggling to get the message across about mouth cancer
We have to talk about mouth cancer
When Keith and I first graduated just over 20 years ago, an oral cancer screening was already a really important part of your dental health check. But I can always remember being told by the older dentists I was working with, not to mention the ‘C’ word because it scared patients. They advised me to say that I was just checking for any lumps and bumps.
The downside of doing this meant that for a long time patients didn’t know they were having a really important screening done. As dentists, we missed the chance to talk to you all about mouth cancer. The risks, things you could do to prevent it and the early warning signs you might see in your mouths. A huge missed opportunity to raise awareness.
Over the last 10-15 years, attitudes have changed towards this. For many years now, at Coatbridge Family Dental Care, we have been telling our patients every time we do a mouth cancer screening. I’m sure that other dentists are doing the same.
Doing this allows us to reassure you when we don’t find anything of concern and allows us to talk about it more. It raises awareness and gets people talking about mouth cancer instead of it being the taboo subject it used to be.
Self-Checking for mouth cancer is the newest development
But in all honesty, it’s only in the last few of years that I’ve realised that patients should check their own mouths for mouth cancer. We have to get that message out there.
Organisations like the Oral Health Foundation, the Mouth Cancer Foundation and the Head and Neck Cancer Foundation all recommend self-checking now and are trying really hard to get the word out there.
We can all play a part in helping. This blog is part of doing that. Please share it widely if you can. You can also read one of our other mouth cancer blogs, 10 Facts Your Dentist Wishes You Knew About Mouth Cancer
And all of the organisations above have fantastic resources that can be shared with friends, family or in your workplace.
The impact of mouth cancer
And the first time Keith and I saw mouth cancer in one of our patients. It’s an experience that really stays with you.
How to check yourself for mouth cancer – a summary.
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