A check-up at the dentist could aid cancer survival
Three people will die here this week from head, neck or mouth cancer yet it rarely makes the headlines. But a two-minute screening exam as part of a routine dental check-up could improve survival rates for patients from the current 10-35pc to over 80pc.
Cancer survivor Gerry Collins (54) from Wicklow had left his days of heavy drinking and smoking behind him and replaced his addictions with hill walking when he was struck with the illness.
"I was a heavy drinker and smoked 60 cigarettes a day but I gave them up two years before my diagnosis.
"One day my neck swelled but it didn't last. It happened again and I went to the doctor who prescribed antibiotics for a sore throat.
"They weren't working and I returned to the doctor three times. I suspected I had cancer and was referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist who sent me to an oncologist.
"He found I had a tumour at the base of my tongue."
Doctors prescribed a round of extremely aggressive chemotherapy and radiotherapy which left him fighting infections, mouth blisters, and feeling extremely weak and ill.
"They decided on this regime because of my physical fitness. It was incredibly tough and has affected my saliva glands which means I have to drink water regularly.
"The treatment worked and doctors told me the tumour was gone. Since then I have been going for check-ups while trying to rebuild my life."
He adds: "I knew smoking was hazardous but was not aware that drinking was also a risk factor."
He is now organising a health exhibition in Dublin to be held in February.
Cigarette smoking and prolonged or excessive drinking are responsible for around 90pc of mouth cancers. The condition is more common in men and most cases develop in people aged over 40.
Head and neck cancers can affect the lips, tongue, gums, cheeks and roof of the mouth, the back and sides of the throat and nose, facial bones, the ear and eye.
As part a national awareness day this Wednesday, the Dublin Dental Hospital, Lincoln Place, Dublin 2 (01-6127200) and the Cork Dental Hospital, in the campus of Cork University Hospital (021-4901100), are offering free, painless mouth examinations to members of the public. No appointment is necessary.
Know the symptoms of head, neck and mouth cancer
Symptoms of head and neck cancers:
- Lump or sore that does not heal
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Change or hoarseness in voice