Routine check-ups are vital for spotting the early signs of mouth cancer.
But experts fear that long waiting times to see a dentist may have led to an increase in mouth cancer deaths.
Around 3,000 people died from the disease in 2021 — 46 per cent more than a decade earlier, according to data from the Oral Health Foundation.
It warned that access to dentistry is in ‘tatters’ as it warned that many people with the disease ‘will not receive a timely diagnosis’.
‘It’s important to remember that these do not mean someone has mouth cancer,’ Dr Sikka says. ‘[But they are] things that require further investigation.’
Here, MailOnline reveal the main warning signs of mouth cancer to look out for.
Mouth ulcers that don’t heal, a hoarse voice and unexplained lumps in the mouth are all warning signs of the disease, says Neil Sikka, a dentist at Bupa Dental Care
Ulcers — broken areas in the lining of the mouth — that do not heal within three weeks can be a sign of mouth cancer.
The sores are common and usually heal within two weeks.
But ulcers that last longer than three weeks, keep coming back or grow back bigger or near the back of the throat should be checked by a GP or dentist, the NHS says.
Swelling or lumps in the mouth
Unexplained swellings and lumps around the mouth or jaw can be a sign of mouth cancer.
They can be painful and cause discomfort, according to Cancer Research UK.
Revealed: The five main types of mouth cancer
Mouth cancer, sometimes called oral cancer, is the sixth most commonly diagnosed cancer in the world, data shows.
More than 8,000 people are told they have the disease every year in Britain, while the figure in the US stands close to 55,000.
Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of oral cancer, making up almost 90 per cent of cases.
Squamous cells are found in the tissue that forms the surface of the skin, such as inside the mouth and on the arms and legs.
According to the NHS, other common types of mouth cancer include:
- Adenocarcinoma, which is cancers that develop inside the salivary glands
- Sarcoma, which grows from abnormalities in bone, cartilage, muscle or other tissue
- Oral malignant melanoma, where cancer starts in the cells that produce skin pigment or colour (melanocytes). These appear as very dark, mottled swellings that often bleed
- Lymphoma, which grows from cells usually found in lymph glands, but they can also grow in the mouth
The lump may appear on the surface of the tongue, mouth, lips or gums, the NHS says.
Less commonly, they can appear on the salivary glands, tonsils and the pharynx, — the part of the throat connecting the mouth to the windpipe.
These lumps can also show as a thickening in the mouth or on the lip, the charity Macmillan warns.
Red or white patches in the mouth
Cancerous changes in the mouth can appear as red or white patches.
They can become tender or painful, warns Dr Sikka.
Although the patches themselves are not cancer, if they are left untreated they may lead to mouth cancer, explains Cancer Research UK.
The white patches, known as leukoplakia, and the red patches, called erythroplakia, should be assessed by a doctor or dentist.
But red and white patches in the mouth can also be a result of a fungal infection called thrush. The white patches usually rub off, leaving a sore red patch underneath, says Cancer Research.
If you have anti-fungal treatment, and the patches go away, they are not related to cancer.
Teeth becoming loose
If you teeth start to become loose for no obvious reason, it could be a sign of mouth cancer, warns Dr Sikka.
It is not normal for adults to get wobbly teeth so doctors state this symptoms should not be ignored.
Experts say tumours, lesions, cracking and bleeding gums can cause the teeth to become loose.
On top of this, mouth cancer sufferers may see their tooth socket struggle to heal properly after extractions, according to the NHS.
Even if it is not mouth cancer, a loose tooth could be caused by gum disease or an impact injury. So medics advise those with these symptoms to speak with a doctor or dentist.
Overall, 18.1million adults saw their dentist in the two years to June 2023, up from 16.4million in the 24 months to June 2022. But it is still well below the 21million seen in the two years to June 2020
Experts fear that long waiting times to see a dentist may have led to an increase in mouth cancer deaths, as it killed more than 3,000 people in 2021
Having trouble swallowing food and drink can be a sign of mouth cancer.
The disease can make it painful to eat or cause a burning sensation when chewing and swallowing food, according to Cancer Research.
Food can also feel like it’s stuck in the throat, which can be caused by a narrowing of the oesophagus.
These symptoms can cause mouth cancer sufferers to lose their appetite and, as a result, lose weight.
Developing a hoarse voice or difficulty speaking
A person’s voice may become huskier or quieter — similar to how it sounds when they have a cold — if they have mouth cancer, according to Cancer Research UK.
This can be a sign of hypopharynx cancer, which affects the back of the throat and potentially the vocal chords.
Swelling in the mouth due to a tumour can also cause a lisp, make it difficult to say particular words or cause slurring.
If the cancer is on the tongue it can also restrict movement and affect speech. This can also cause you to slur certain words or have trouble pronouncing some sounds.
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