Mouth cancer: What to look for and the 60 second check ‘that can save your life’

Julia Bradbury's sister gives an update on cancer diagnosis

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Around 8,300 people are diagnosed with mouth cancer each year in the UK, which is about one in every 50 cancers diagnosed, according to the NHS. You are at increased risk of developing mouth cancer if you smoke or are using tobacco in other ways, such as chewing tobacco. There are several signs to be aware of, and a 60 second check which you can easily do.

Michelle Vickers, CEO at Head & Neck Cancer Foundation said: “Early diagnosis helps to save lives, as cancer does not discriminate, which is why it is so important that everybody regardless of their age or gender checks their mouth thoroughly and encourages other people in their family and friend circle to do the same.”

The CEO has put together her tips for how to check your mouth at home, outlining a 60 second check “that can save your life”.

First, you should look at your whole face. Look for swelling and inspect your skin, checking for any moles that have become larger or started to itch or bleed.

“Don’t forget to turn your head from side to side, this stretches the skin over the muscles making lumps easier to see,” Ms Vickers said.

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Secondly, you should feel your neck – “you will need to run the fingers under your jaw and feel along the large muscle on either side of the neck using the balls of your fingers”.

The charity CEO said: “You need to be checking for any lumps or swollen areas and if everything feels the same on both sides.”

When you brush your teeth, it is also advised that you use this time to inspect your lips.

“Feel around the inside of your lips and along the gum line. Any ulcers that have been hanging around or come back, changes in texture, or lumps and bumps need to be checked out by a medical professional,” said Ms Vickers.

You should also feel your cheeks, both the inside and outside, using your fingers.

“It is meant to feel the same on both sides. You’re looking for red or white patches, lumps, ulcers, or tenderness,” explained the CEO.

Lastly, you should tilt your head to look at the roof of your mouth. This can be done if you tilt your head back and open your mouth wide in front of a mirror.

Ms Vickers said: “You are looking for ulcers and also changes in colour and texture. If you do this once a week, you’ll spot if anything changes or looks unusual.”

Doing this check can help spot cancer early, which gives you the best chance of being cured.

The NHS says if mouth cancer is diagnosed early, a complete cure is often possible in up to nine in 10 cases using surgery alone.

If the cancer is larger, there’s still a good chance of a cure, but surgery should be followed by radiotherapy or a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

“Overall, around six in 10 people with mouth cancer will live for at least five years after their diagnosis, and many will live much longer without the cancer returning,” says the health body.

Macmillan charity says the most common symptom of mouth cancer is an ulcer or sore that does not heal in three weeks.

As well as smoking there are several other risk factors.

The Mouth Cancer Foundation says these include drinking alcohol to excess, which can increase risks four fold, and having HPV.

The charity warns: “The majority of deaths from mouth cancer occur because of late detection, due to a low public awareness of the signs, symptoms, and risks”, hence the importance of quick self-checks for mouth cancer.

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