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  • Writer's pictureAyrshire Daily News

Be mouthaware: The 45-second check that could save your life

Are you able to recognise the changes in your mouth? That’s the question posed by NHS Ayrshire & Arran’s Oral Health Improvement Team as they raise awareness of mouth cancer.

The Oral Health Improvement Team, is urging people living in Ayrshire and Arran to be more mouthaware and recognise the early warning signs of mouth cancer, as part of November’s Mouth Cancer Action Month.

With awareness of the disease remaining alarmingly low, the Oral Health Improvement Team say that a simple 45-second check is often all that’s needed to identify anything unusual and be able to then seek professional guidance.

Ayr United Football Club are supporting the campaign and helping to raise awareness, with information on mouth cancer being advertised in the club’s football programmes throughout the season.

Mr Stuart Hislop, Consultant in Maxillofacial and Oral Surgery at University Hospital Crosshouse, explains: “Early diagnosis transforms the chances of beating mouth cancer from 50 per cent to 90 percent. So it is crucial that people know what to look out for and that they seek advice from a health professional sooner rather than later.

“A mouth ulcer that does not heal within three weeks, red or white patches in the mouth and unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth or head and neck area, can all be potential signs of mouth cancer so it’s important to be aware of any changes occurring inside your mouth.

“If you keep a lookout for these symptoms then a simple 45-second check really could save your life. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, please speak to your dentist or a doctor.”

With around 8,300 people in Britain diagnosed with mouth cancer last year, the disease is one of the UK’s fastest increasing cancers, with cases rising by a third in the last decade alone.

Survival rates of mouth cancer have not improved in the last 20 years and the Oral Health Foundation charity is concerned that too many mouth cancers are being diagnosed at a late stage, significantly reducing our chance to beat the disease.

Mouth cancer, which can appear anywhere in the mouth including the lips, tongue, cheek, throat and gums, can have a devastating effect on a person’s life, impacting on their breathing, eating and speech. Reconstructive surgery could also change their appearance while the experience often has an impact on confidence and self-esteem.

Mr Hislop added: “By developing a greater understanding about the early warning signs and symptoms, the lifestyle factors which increase our risk, and recognising where to go if we notice anything unusual inside our mouth, we can detect mouth cancer early. This will not only improve our chances of beating it but will also reduce the amount of invasive surgery needed to treat it.

“During every dental check-up, your dentist will do a visual examination for mouth cancer and look for anything that might be a cause for concern. That’s why it’s so important to keep regular dental check-ups – it’s not just about the health of our teeth and gums – a trip to the dentist could really be a life saver.”

Mr Stuart Hislop, a Consultant in Maxillofacial and Oral Surgery at University Hospital Crosshouse, is the only current surgeon in Scotland to take part in a ground-breaking new surgical trial on mouth cancer.

Findings of research at 27 UK hospitals published in the British Journal of Cancer show that removing the neck glands of patients at the same time as removing their small cancer in the mouth significantly improves their chances of cure even if the scans show no sign of deposits of cancer in the neck glands.  

This major finding was only possible because of a national surgical collaboration in the UK by a team of 68 UK oral and maxillofacial surgeons treating 614 patients at 27 hospitals. It is the first-ever nationwide multi-centre study comparing 2 different surgical treatments for early mouth cancer. The large numbers of surgeons also means the findings are applicable to all surgeons and hospitals worldwide.

This finding clears up a longstanding medical dilemma which has never been completely resolved over many years to the satisfaction of national guidelines and expert surgeons. This UK-first has succeeded in studying enough patients to influence national guidelines.

The research was funded by Cancer Research UK and Elliott Bernerd with Saving Faces.

Commenting on the findings, Professor Iain Hutchison, who co-wrote the paper with Professor Allan Hackshaw, research staff at Saving Faces and 32 surgeons, said: “Mouth cancer is often neglected when it comes to research into finding better ways of treating it. We now have clarity over an issue which has vexed surgeons for over 20 years about how best to treat patients with small cancers who may have undetectable tiny cancer deposits in their neck glands. The results show that removing the lymph glands at the same time as the mouth tumour almost halves the chance of the cancer coming back or the patient dying. If all patients who are eligible for this operation have it, it could save 21,000 lives worldwide every year.”

“Surgeons now have reliable evidence about the risks and benefits of removing the neck glands in early stage mouth cancer. This provides better information to help surgeons and patients make decisions about their treatment. This is a good day for mouth cancer patients”.

To find out more information about mouth cancer, oral health and Mouth Cancer Action Month, please visit:


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