06:28pm Saturday 30 May 2020

Smoking increases your risk of developing mouth cancer, PHA warns

Latest figures show that in Northern Ireland, 216 people were diagnosed with mouth cancer in one year.

With Mouth Cancer Awareness Month (1–30 November) drawing to an end, the Public Health Agency (PHA) is urging everyone to continue to be vigilant of the signs and symptoms of mouth cancer and is encouraging all smokers who are thinking about giving up smoking to make the decision to stop today.

Gerry Bleakney, Strategic Lead for Tobacco Control with the PHA, said: “Certain lifestyle choices can increase your 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.”

Mouth cancer 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.

Symptoms of mouth cancer include:

  • red, or red and white, patches on the lining of your mouth or tongue
  • one or more mouth ulcers that do not heal after three weeks
  • a swelling in your mouth that lasts for more than three weeks
  • pain when swallowing (dysphagia)
  • a tooth, or teeth, that becomes loose for no obvious reason
  • a persistent pain in the neck
  • a hoarse voice
  • unexplained weight loss 
  • unusual changes in your sense of taste
  • earache 
  • the lymph nodes (glands) in your neck become swollen.

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

Gerry continued: “Mouth cancer and the treatment required can be traumatic for the patient as this may affect functions such as speech, chewing and swallowing. However, the positive news is that stopping smoking can result in a rapid reduction in the risk of oral cancers.

“If you stop for 28 days or more, you are five time times more likely to stop for good. However, it is not easy and different approaches will work for different people. While some people might be able to do it with very little support, others find that planning ahead and making use of the Stop Smoking Support Services that are available can really help them make the decision permanent. Regular trips to the dentist are also a must,” Gerry concluded.

Michael Donaldson, Head of Dental Services at the Health and Social Care Board, said: “Access to a health service dentist has never been better. If you smoke or if you are worried about any unusual symptoms in your mouth, make an appointment to see your dentist today. If you don’t have a dentist, use our website at www.hscbusiness.hscni.net/services to find one.” 

For more information and useful tips to stop smoking, visit the PHA’s ‘Want 2 Stop’ website at www.want2stop.info and order a ‘Quit Kit’ free of charge. Alternatively, contact the Smokers’ Helpline on 0808 812 8008.


Public Health Agency
Linenhall Street Unit
12-22 Linenhall Street

Tel: +44 (28) 9032 1313

There are also over 600 free stop smoking specialist services across Northern Ireland in pharmacies, GP surgeries, hospitals, communities and workplaces that can help with your quit attempt.

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