Figures from Cancer Research UK show mouth cancer is one of the UK’s fastest increasing cancers, with cases up by a third in the last decade alone. It shows no signs of slowing down with a 15% increase predicted by 2030. But nurses have the ability to save their patients’ lives by ensuring they are aware of the signs, symptoms and risk factors of mouth cancer and referring patients to a doctor or dentist if they have one.
As with any other type of the disease, catching mouth cancer early is the most important element in ensuring the best chances of a successful treatment. Being on the frontline of healthcare puts nurses in the perfect place to recognise the signs, symptoms and risk factors enabling this early diagnosis.
Mouth cancer can have a devastating effect on a person’s life. Impacting on how they breathe, eat and drink, even their speech. Often this can lead to other problems such as nutritional deficiency, and depression. Difficulties in communication, low self-esteem, social isolation and the impact on relationships and career can cause as much distress as the cancer itself.
November is Mouth Cancer Action Month, a campaign by the British Dental Health Foundation to increase awareness of mouth cancer by improving education on the risk factors, signs and symptoms among the health profession, while encouraging everyone to discuss them openly.
The main things to be aware of are ulcers which do not heal within three weeks, red and white patches in the mouth and any unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth, head and neck area.
Awareness of the risk factors is also vital, as roughly 91% of all diagnoses are linked to lifestyle. Smoking and chewing tobacco are the leading causes of mouth cancer and excessive alcohol is linked to more than a third of cases in men and a fifth in women. Poor diet and the HPV virus are also major risk factors.
Unfortunately, survival rates for those with mouth cancer have not improved in the last 20 years. By being ‘Mouth aware’ and by spotting mouth cancer early, patients are given the best possible chance to be successfully treated and have a good quality of life.
Dr Nigel Carter OBE, chief executive, British Dental Health Foundation