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'Having my wisdom tooth removed led me to discover that I had mouth cancer'


‘Get it checked out’: Susan Richmond is a mouth-cancer survivor. Photo: Daragh McSweeney/Provision

‘Get it checked out’: Susan Richmond is a mouth-cancer survivor. Photo: Daragh McSweeney/Provision

‘Get it checked out’: Susan Richmond is a mouth-cancer survivor. Photo: Daragh McSweeney/Provision

Susan Richmond thought she just needed a wisdom tooth removed, but her dentist's concerns led her to discover she was suffering from mouth cancer.

"After it was confirmed that I had cancer, I was referred for surgery and radiation therapy," says the 63-year old from Cork. "Thankfully, I am good today but have some residual problems and drool due to nerve damage where my lip dips down. I also find it difficult to swallow sometimes and my speech is affected, and I continue with daily mouth exercises to keep my tongue and throat flexible.

"I would advise anyone who notices any changes in their mouth, to go to their dentist to get it checked out. They are trained for this and will recognise if further investigation is needed. Don't delay as early detection is vital."

Now, 14 years later, although left with some lingering side effects, she is healthy and happy with two adult sons and nine grandchildren.

She would urge everyone not to dismiss any uncomfortable or suspicious lumps or bumps and to seek advice as soon as possible.

Today is Mouth Cancer Awareness Day when health experts urge people to be aware of their oral health and, if they have any concerns, to seek medical advice.

Although relatively rare, there are currently more than 700 cases of mouth, head and neck cancer (MHNC) in Ireland each year.

Laryngeal and tongue cancers are the most common and usually seen amongst those over 55, but the number of cases among younger people is increasing.

"Early detection greatly improves the chances of survival," says Kevin O'Hagan, cancer prevention manager with the Irish Cancer Society.

"Dentists have a key role to play in early detection and the prevention of the disease by advising on risk factors.

"So a quick and painless examination should be part of your routine dental check-up. And if there are any concerns, you will be referred for further examination."

Symptoms of this type of cancer include a sore or ulcer in the mouth which doesn't heal, white or red patches inside the mouth, a lump in the mouth or neck, numbness, and difficulty chewing, swallowing, or moving the tongue.

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Other symptoms include a persistent sore throat and hoarseness, unexplained loose teeth, persistent nose bleeds and stuffy nose and a numbness of the tongue or face.

Case numbers are set to increase by 30pc in the next 25 years and currently, Ireland's five-year survival rate is just 54pc as more than two-thirds of patients are diagnosed with late-stage disease.

But despite this negative picture, Mr O'Hagan says those who are diagnosed early can be treated effectively.

"Unfortunately, for those who are diagnosed at a late stage, the outcomes can be poor and affected individuals can be left with life-altering changes to their appearance and their ability to speak, eat and swallow," he says.

"This is why it is so important to make people aware of the risk factors and early signs of MHNC to reduce the burden of this disease for the Irish population.

"But excellent outcomes can be achieved for patients presenting with early stage disease."

Visit www.mouthcancer.ie or contact the Irish Cancer Society Cancer Nurseline on freephone 1800 200 700.

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