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Mouth Cancer: am I at risk?

BlueLipSelfie by City Health Clinic team

November is Mouth Cancer Awareness Month and here at City Health Clinic we are getting behind the cause. Each week we’ll be posting our #BlueLipSelfies on facebook and writing up a wee blog here on the subject. Last week we gave a quick run-down of how to check your own mouth for signs and symptoms. This week, we’re focusing what you can do to lower your risk of developing this largely-preventably disease.

“I’ve never even heard of mouth cancer. Why worry?”

It may not be as well-known as some other cancers but it can be just as devastating. Well over 7000 people are diagnosed with mouth cancer each year and nearly 2000 people will lose their lives to the disease in 2018. That’s more than will die from cervical or skin cancer – that’s quite shocking, isn’t it?

The incidence of oral cancer in the UK has risen by a third in the last decade. The majority of cases occur in older people but mouth cancer is starting to increase in younger adults too.

Be Mouthaware: prevention is better than cure!

Ever wondered why we ask our patients about their alcohol consumption, diet and smoking habits? Well, around 91% of mouth cancer diagnoses are linked to lifestyle factors such as tobacco use, alcohol consumption and diet.

Risk factors poster from Mouth Cancer Action Month

As dentists, we know the disease is largely preventable – and here’s what we advise our patients in order to lower cancer risks:

  1. Drink less: a third of all mouth cancer cases are related to excessive alcohol. Make sure you keep an eye on your weekly intake.

  2. Stop smoking: As dentists, it’s not just stained and diseased teeth that worry us when it comes to smoking. Smokers are 7 to 10 times more likely to develop mouth cancer than non-smokers. Even with smokeless tobacco users, the risk is more than 11 times that of non-users. However it’s never too late to make a difference and NHS Lothian have expert advice, support and encouragement to help you quit for good.

  3. Avoid the heavy-drinking & smoking combination: The combined effects of tobacco and alcohol actually account for around three quarters of cases. Heavy drinkers and smokers are 38 times more likely to develop the disease.

  4. Check your diet: yes, tooth decay is one of our big concerns as dentists, but an even bigger issue is that over half of all mouth cancer cases are linked to poor diets. A diet which is low in sugar and rich in fruit and vegetables will not only keep your teeth and body healthy, it will help to reduce the risk of mouth cancer. Research shows that fruit, vegetables, vitamin C supplements, calcium supplements, caffeinated coffee and green tea all have the effect of lowering mouth cancer risks.

  5. Practice safe sex: an increasingly common cause of mouth cancer comes from the HPV virus which is passed on through unprotected oral sex. Many experts believe the Human papillomavirus (HPV), transmitted mostly through oral sex, will overtake tobacco use as the main cause of mouth cancer within the next decade. Since 2008, girls age 12/13 in the UK have been vaccinated against HPV – boys and men as well as women age over 21 remain fully at risk. Practicing safe sex is critical.

So, being #Mouthaware isn’t just about watching for signs and symptoms, it’s about doing what you can to prevent the disease too. We’ll shortly announce details of a free mouth cancer clinic at City Health Clinic – this will be a chance to discuss these risk factors as well as check-out any signs or symptoms you’ve noticed. Get in touch if you'd like to know more - if in doubt, check it out.

Blue lips image to raise awareness of Mouth Cancer

#mouthcancer #diet #alcohol #tobacco #smoking #HPV

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