Experts warn mouth cancer a silent killer due to late diagnosis
Half of mouth cancer cases continue to be diagnosed at an advanced stage, leaving patients facing lower survival odds, specialists have warned.
People who live in rural Ireland - including many single men who are reluctant to go to the dentist or doctor - are now being targeted as part of Mouth Cancer Awareness Day in a bid to cut the 100 deaths a year from the disease.
The campaign is being backed by Martin McAleese, a trained dentist and husband of former President Mary McAleese, who has highlighted the problems faced by many men in rural areas who feel isolated and alone.
"Mouth cancer is often referred to as the silent killer because its profile is much lower than other types of cancer. The purpose of mouth cancer awareness day is to make it more widely known and I think this year's focus on rural communities is timely," Mr McAleese said.
"If you haven't been to a doctor or a dentist in a while or have been putting off going, I would urge you to get a check-up without delay.
"I would also urge you to look out for neighbours, particularly older people who may be at risk and who would benefit from the reassurance of a check-up. They may need a prompt or they may just need a lift; the important thing is that they go for a check-up and stay healthy," he added.
Dr Denise McCarthy, a consultant in restorative dentistry at Dublin University Dental School, warned yesterday that incidence of the cancer is rising in Europe and 300 people are diagnosed with mouth cancer in Ireland annually.
She pointed out: "This is clearly seen in UK figures and there has been a significant increase in the incidence of mouth cancer in Irish women in recent years. Up until now, this was a disease of older people, now we are seeing more cases in young people."
The later diagnosis leads to more complicated treatment and the five-year survival overall stands at less than 50pc.
Dr Eleanor O'Sullivan, from the Cork University Dental School and Hospital, warned that smoking and drinking were major risk factors for mouth cancer. However, even without these risk factors people can get the disease.
Dr Conor McAlister of the Irish Dental Association said the signs and signals could include having a sore or ulcer in the mouth that did not heal within three weeks.
"Other signs are white or red patches inside the mouth, a lump in the mouth or neck or a persistent sore throat or hoarseness.
"If you, or someone you know, hasn't visited the dentist in a long time, we would urge you to get it checked out."
"Everyone who has a medical card is entitled to a free examination annually while most other people will be covered under the PRSI scheme."
Risk factors include:
- Smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes or marijuana
- Chewing smokeless tobacco
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Using both tobacco and alcohol together - this greatly increases your risk
- Excessive exposure to sunlight or radiation
- Exposure to the Human papilloma virus (HPV) through sexual contact
- A diet lacking in fruit and vegetables
Potential symptoms include:
- Red or white patches in the mouth or throat
- A lump
- persistent pain in the mouth
- pain or difficulty when swallowing (dysphagia)
- changes in your voice, or speech problems
- swollen lymph nodes (glands) in your neck
The HSE in its submission to the Department of Health for 2016 is asking for funding for the HPV vaccine to all adolescent boys, which could cut down on the risk of mouth cancer.
This would be offered free to teenage boys as part of a routine vaccination scheme.
Anyone who has concerns about mouth cancer can contact a specialist nurse at the National Cancer Helpline on Freephone 1800 200 700.
Also see www.dentist.ie or mouthcancerawareness.ie