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Mouth Cancer Action Month: What can we do?

Blog Author David Arnold

Blog Date 19/11/2020

The Oral Health Foundation’s campaign encouraging more people to self-check for mouth cancers might be critical for early detection and to combat the potentially devastating rise in cases.


The Oral Health Foundation’s campaign over the past two decades to raise public awareness of mouth cancer has been a huge success. As much as 90% of the general public are now aware of mouth cancer, compared to just 6% twenty years ago. However, that has done little to stem the rise in the number of oral cancers which have risen 97% over the past twenty years. Even more alarmingly, the number of deaths from oral cancers have increased by 47% over the past 10 years. Cases have increased for 11 straight years and show no sign of slowing.


Now the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to exacerbate the situation. Fewer people are able to go to the dentist - the first line of defence against oral cancer - meaning more issues are likely to be going undetected. Behaviours that increase the risk of oral cancer, such as high-risk drinking, may also have increased. This Mouth Cancer Action Month, our goal is to help people understand the signs, the symptoms and the action they need to take, and we’re outlining the ways in which dentists can help.


Oral cancer is going undetected

“The NHS trust has said, since the first national lockdown in March, referrals for mouth cancers have fallen by 65%”

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant far fewer people have been able to visit a dentist for what could be a life-saving check-up. The NHS trust has said, since the first national lockdown in March, referrals for mouth cancers have fallen by 65%. That means that there are potentially thousands of people living with undiagnosed mouth cancers.


That’s why, this year’s Mouth Cancer Action Month campaign has been to emphasise the importance of oral health at home. We want to encourage more people to be proactive in checking for mouth cancers themselves and, in effect, to take more control of their own oral health between dental appointments. We have been encouraging everyone to do self-checks and seek help if they experience anything out of the ordinary. We’re also working with the dental community to help spread that message and the vital information patients need. We believe this could substantially increase the likelihood of early detection.


Self-checks for oral cancers

It’s essential that we normalise the process of self-checks for oral cancers, much in the way that checking for lumps in the breast has helped increase earlier detection of breast cancer. To do this, people must learn to recognise the warning signs of mouth cancers.


We are urging everyone to monitor their mouths for long-lasting ulcers that do not heal and remain for a long period, up to three weeks. The appearance of red and white patches in the mouth is another warning sign as are unusual lumps or swellings in the head and neck. A persistently coarse voice can also be cause to seek help. Dentists all know this, but if we can educate the public on self-checks then patients can also be vigilant.


Share our messaging with your networks

Dentists are busy people. We know that you won’t always be able to talk all of your patients through a self-check for oral cancer. However, there are other ways in which you can help to educate your patients. We have a range of digital resources for dental practitioners to share via your social media channels, newsletters, in your practice and across your website. Please download what is appropriate for your setting.


Our ultimate vision is to live in a world where nobody has to suffer mouth cancers. However, in the short term, our goal is simply to reverse the trend of rising new cases. We know that survival rate is vastly improved with earlier detection and we are determined to bring about this change. Dentists play an essential role in this for thousands of people every year. Now we’re calling on you to spread the word about self-checks for oral cancer in any way that you can. Together we can make a difference.


David Arnold

Oral Health Foundation


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