Oral cancer is about the sixth most common cancer on a worldwide basis.In the UK the prevalence is less-it’s around the 12th most common.Oral cancer is easily overlooked when considering cancer diagnosis.Generally speaking it is more common in older patients-still fairly rare in under 40s-and rises up to about 1/1000 in patients of 75 or over.On average 3-4,000 people are diagnosed each year in the UK with oral cancer which is more than people who are killed in road accidents so it is not an insignificant disease.
What are the signs of oral cancer? Signs that dentists look out for when conducting a routine dental examination are white,red patches in the mouth and ulcers that have been present for longer than about 3 weeks.Mouth ulcers are very common-around 20% of the population have ulcers on a regular basis.The vast majority of oral ulcers are benign and resolve on their own within about 2 weeks.Sometimes an ulcer can be caused by trauma-eg rubbing your tongue on a sharp tooth or broken filling.In these cases the ulcer resolves when the cause is removed by fixing or extracting the offending tooth.
However an ulcer that has been present for more than 3 weeks with no obvious cause MUST be checked out as it is assumed to be cancer unless proven otherwise.
White,red patches are again not uncommon in the mouth but should be seen by a dentist and referred if necessary to Oral Surgery specialists for examination and/or biopsy to rule out oral cancer.
It is therefore very important that patients attend the dentist for regular check ups to screen for oral cancer,along with checking for normal dental disease such as tooth decay and gum disease.We at Riverside Dental Practice advise check ups even in patients with no teeth at least annually for this reason.
We will go into the causes of oral cancer in our next post.