08:35am Thursday 27 February 2020

Smoking causes mouth cancer, PHA warns

Mouth cancer awareness week begins on the 13 – 20 November. With this in mind the Public Health Agency (PHA) is urging everyone to be aware of the signs and symptoms of mouth cancer and is encouraging all smokers thinking about stopping smoking to make the decision to stop today.

Smoking causes mouth cancer, PHA warns

In Northern Ireland 195 people were diagnosed with mouth cancer in 2009. The disease causes one death every five hours in the UK and yet it is one of the least well-known cancers.

Smoking and excess alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of developing mouth cancer, which can occur in or on any part of the mouth, tongue, lips, neck and throat. In its very early stages, mouth cancer can be easy to ignore.

Most people with mouth cancer have no early symptoms at all, but others may have:

  • an ulcer in the mouth or on the lip that won’t heal;
  • constant pain or soreness;
  • red or white patches in the mouth;
  • a lump on the lip, tongue or in the neck;
  • bad breath;
  • unexplained bleeding in the mouth;
  • numbness in the mouth;
  • loose teeth.

The earlier the disease is caught, the better. Survival rates rise to 90 per cent if the cancer is treated before it has spread.

Gerry Bleakney, Head of Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement, PHA, said: “Certain lifestyle choices can increase an individual’s risk of developing mouth cancer. Tobacco is considered to be the main cause of mouth cancer, with three in four cases being linked to smoking. Excess alcohol consumption is also a known factor, with those who both smoke and drink excessively being up 30 times more likely to be at risk.

“Mouth cancer and the treatment required can be traumatic for the patient as this may affect functions such as speech, chewing and swallowing. The positive news is that stopping smoking is associated with a rapid reduction in the risk of oral cancers. Regular trips to the dentist are also a must because half of all mouth cancer cases are detected by dentists.

“I would encourage everyone who is thinking about quitting to log on to our Want 2 Stop website www.want2stop.info and order a ‘Quit Kit’ free of charge. Alternatively contact the Smokers’ Helpline on 0808 812 8008. ” 

Health Minister Edwin Poots said: “Smoking is the single greatest cause of preventable illness and premature death in Northern Ireland. It is a major risk factor for oral cancer, as well as coronary heart disease, strokes and other diseases of the circulatory system. Approximately 2,300 people die each year in Northern Ireland from smoking related illnesses.  Quitting smoking is the single most effective step people can take to improve their long term health. 

“A key objective of the Department’s Tobacco Action Plan, which is being rolled forward for a further five years, is to prevent people from starting to smoke. Funding provided by the Department for smoking cessation services has resulted in over 600 such services being made available in Northern Ireland in a range of settings, including pharmacies, GP surgeries and community centres.  These services have helped more than 42,000 smokers to set a quit date between 2007/08 and 2008/09.” 

The Minister added: “It is also important for people to look after their oral health by regularly attending the dentist for check-ups, as any problems can be picked up and treated at an early stage.  Early detection of oral cancer is critical if effective treatment and successful outcomes are to be achieved.  Those at particular risk are patients who smoke, drink excessively and the over 50’s”

Further information

Contact the PHA Press Office on 028 9031 1611

Notes to the editor

1.    For further information on stop smoking services available in localities across Northern Ireland, contact the Smokers’ Helpline on 0808 812 8008 or go to www.want2stop.info

2.    The ‘Quit Kit’ is available from the website www.want2stop.info

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