Warning signs of mouth cancer revealed as charity warns NHS dental crisis may be fuelling spike in deaths from disease
Routine checkups are essential for spotting the early signs of oral cancer.
But experts fear long wait times to see the dentist may have led to a rise in oral cancer deaths.
According to data from the Oral Health Foundation, about 3,000 people died from the disease in 2021 — 46 percent more than a decade earlier.
It warned that access to dentistry is ‘in tatters’ as it warned that many people with the disease ‘will not receive a timely diagnosis’.
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 in London.
“It’s important to remember that this doesn’t mean someone has mouth cancer,” says Dr. Sikka. “(But they are) matters that require further investigation.”
Here, MailOnline reveals the top 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, dentist at Bupa Dental Care
Ulcers (broken areas in the lining of the mouth) that do not heal within three weeks may be a sign of oral cancer.
The sores are common and usually heal within two weeks.
But sores that last for more than three weeks, keep coming back or get bigger or are at 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 oral cancer.
According to Cancer Research UK, they can be painful and cause discomfort.
Revealed: the five main types of oral cancer
Data shows that oral cancer, also known as oral cancer, is the sixth most diagnosed cancer in the world.
More than 8,000 people in Britain are diagnosed with the disease each year, while the number in the US is almost 55,000.
Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common form of oral cancer, accounting for almost 90 percent of cases.
Squamous cells are found in the tissue that forms the surface of the skin, such as in the mouth and on the arms and legs.
According to the NHSOther common types of oral cancer include:
- AdenocarcinomaThese are cancers that develop in the salivary glands
- Sarcomawhich is caused by abnormalities in bones, cartilage, muscles or other tissue
- Oral malignant melanoma, where cancer starts in the cells that produce skin pigment or color (melanocytes). These appear as very dark, mottled swellings that often bleed
- lymphomathat grows from cells usually found in the lymph nodes, but can also grow in the mouth
The lump can appear on the surface of the tongue, mouth, lips or gums, the NHS says.
Less commonly, they occur on the salivary glands, tonsils, and pharynx, the part of the throat that connects the mouth to the trachea.
These lumps can also manifest as a bulge in the mouth or on the lip, the Macmillan charity warns.
Red or white spots in the mouth
Cancerous changes in the mouth can appear as red or white spots.
They can become tender or painful, Dr. Sikka warns.
Although the patches themselves are not cancerous, if left untreated they can lead to mouth cancer, Cancer Research UK explains.
The white spots, known as leukoplakia, and the red spots, called erythroplakia, should be evaluated by a doctor or dentist.
But red and white patches in the mouth can also be the result of a fungal infection called thrush. The white spots usually disappear, leaving a painful red spot underneath, says Cancer Research.
If you receive antifungal treatment and the patches disappear, it is not related to cancer.
Teeth come loose
If your teeth become loose for no apparent reason, it could be a sign of oral cancer, warns Dr. Sikka.
It’s not normal for adults to develop wobbly teeth, so doctors say these symptoms shouldn’t be ignored.
Experts say tumors, lesions, cracking and bleeding gums can cause teeth to loosen.
In addition, patients with oral cancer may see their tooth sockets struggle to heal properly after extractions, according to the NHS.
Even if it isn’t oral cancer, a loose tooth can be caused by gum disease or an impact injury. Therefore, doctors advise people with these symptoms to talk to a doctor or dentist.
A total of 18.1 million adults visited their dentist in the two years to June 2023, up from 16.4 million in the 24 months to June 2022. But this is still well below 21 million in the two years to June 2020.
Experts fear long wait times to see the dentist may have led to a rise in oral cancer deaths, as more than 3,000 people died in 2021.
If you have trouble swallowing food and drink, it could be a sign of oral cancer.
According to Cancer Research, the disease can make it painful to eat or cause a burning sensation when chewing and swallowing food.
Food may also feel like it is stuck in the throat, which can be caused by a narrowing of the esophagus.
These symptoms can cause people with oral cancer to lose their appetite and, as a result, lose weight.
Developing a hoarse voice or difficulty speaking
According to Cancer Research UK, a person’s voice may become hoarse or quieter – similar to what it sounds like when they have a cold – if they have mouth cancer.
This may be a sign of hypopharyngeal cancer, which affects the back of the throat and possibly the vocal cords.
Swelling in the mouth due to a tumor can also cause a lisp, make it difficult to say certain words, or cause slurring.
If the cancer is on the tongue, it can also limit movement and affect speech. This can also cause you to slur some words or have difficulty pronouncing some sounds.