November is Mouth Cancer Action Month, and so we thought it’d be wise to share with our patients and readers how to spot the signs of mouth. When mouth cancer is detected and treated early, the chances of survival increase to nine out of ten, which is pretty good odds in our eyes. This is why we want to educate on how to detect the signs of mouth cancer, so we can bolster these odds even more.
How to check for mouth cancer
Mouth cancer can show itself in a number of different places, including the lips, tongue, gums, and cheeks. It’s extremely important to know what to look out for, so three signs you should definitely be aware of are: mouth ulcers that do not heal after three weeks, red and white patches in the mouth, and unusual lumps and swellings.
Head and neck – Check if both sides look the same and search for any lumps, bumps, or swellings that are on one side of the face but not the other. Feel a press along the sides and front of your neck, taking care to note any tenderness, lumps, or bumps.
Lips – Pull down your lower lip and look inside for any sores or changes in colour. Use a thumb and finger to feel the lip for any unusual lumps or changes in texture. Do this on your upper and lower lip.
Cheek – Be aware that some signs appear to resemble mouth ulcers, so if you notice a mouth ulcer that hasn’t disappeared after 3 weeks you should get checked out just in case. In front of a mirror, pull your cheek aside with your forefinger and check for red, white, or dark patches. Then, place your finger against the inside of your cheek and your thumb on the outside so that you could pinch through, and gently squeeze and roll the cheek to check for any lumps. Take note of any unusual tenderness or ulcers and do this on both cheeks.
Roof of the mouth – You will need a dentist’s help with this one. With your head titled back and your mouth open, your dentist will check for any lumps or discolouration on the roof of your mouth.
Tongue – Examine your tongue for any changes in colour or texture on its surface. Stick it out and move it from one side to another, again looking for any swelling or discolouration. Take a look at the underside of the tongue by placing the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
Floor of the mouth – Finally, we need to check the floor of the mouth. Press your finger along the floor of your mouth and underside of your tongue to feel for swelling, lumps, and ulcers. Also take note of any discolouration or dark patches.
Mouth cancer risk factors
Although mouth cancer can affect anybody, around 91% of all diagnoses are linked to lifestyle. This means that you can amend your lifestyle choices to help protect yourself from developing mouth cancer that is partially preventable. Risk factors of mouth cancer include tobacco, alcohol, HPV, chewing tobacco, and heavy alcohol consumption.
Mouth cancer, when caught early, can be treated effectively, but it does need to be caught. This November, and every month onwards, make a small pledge to yourself that you will check your mouth’s tissues and neck for any warning signs and speak openly with your dentist about your intentions. We can beat mouth cancer, but we have to be diligent.