Mouth Cancer Action Month logo

You Never Forget the First Time You Find Mouth Cancer

I’ll never forget the day 17 years ago when I saw my first real-life mouth cancer in a patient. Keith and I were working in a remote government clinic north of Sydney, Australia for 3 weeks. We’d only graduated a couple of years before and had taken the opportunity before we settled down to go for an adventure. It was in the middle of a session one morning in our last week when Keith came through, looking quite pale.
“My patient has oral cancer, can you come and take a look?”

Mouth cancer can often be difficult to diagnose, so I asked him how he was so sure.

“I can see it from the other side of the room when he opens his mouth, it’s so big,” he said grimly.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went through, mouth cancer can take many forms: a red or white patch in your mouth; a persistent swelling, lump or bump in your mouth or neck; or an ulcer which has been in your mouth for more than 2 weeks.   

Mouth Cancer Warning Signs

Watch this video to learn about the warning signs of mouth cancer

When the patient opened his mouth, I remember trying to suppress my gasp.  I could see immediately why Keith had been so sure.  Under his tongue he had a huge ulcer, unlike anything I’d ever seen before, about 4-5cm in diameter, which just looked really nasty.  It had only just begun to be sore.  Often there can be no pain with mouth cancer until it is in its later stages.

Getting the Right Care

Keith reassured the patient but advised him that it was really important that he was seen by a specialist as soon as possible.

As we were new to the clinic, and the country, we were unsure of the procedure to refer the patient to a hospital service, so approached the clinic manager.  He advised that because the patient didn’t have a car and the nearest clinic was 3 hours away, he could arrange hospital transport for him in 2 weeks!  Keith’s reply was that that wasn’t good enough and that  the patient’s situation was so severe that if he had to he would drive him to the hospital in Sydney himself, to make sure he got the care he needed.  Here in Lanarkshire we’re very lucky that we have access to a rapid access clinic for suspected mouth cancer and patients can be seen quickly at a hospital just across town.

Unfortunately, because we moved onto another clinic we never found out the outcome for the patient, but I really hope he was treated successfully.  In all honesty his mouth cancer was extensive and a good outcome would definitely have required surgery and other forms of treatment.  If he’d seen a dentist earlier it may have been a different story.


Mouth Cancer Action Month

The reason this story came into my head today is that November is Mouth Cancer Action Month and I’m really aware at the moment that access to regular dental check-ups is more difficult than it’s ever been.  Checking your own mouth is easy and is something that should be done regularly just like checking your breasts or your testicles.  As a practice we’re trying to raise awareness of this.

Watch this video to learn how to check your own mouth for mouth cancer.

We Are Here If You Need Us

It is vital that if you find something that you are concerned about in or around your mouth you call us at Coatbridge Family Dental Care on 01236 421103  or message us here and we will be happy to check it out for you. Many patients worry about wasting our time, but remember this is what we’re here for. The earlier that mouth cancer is caught the better the recovery.