The research, which interviewed relatively young mouth cancer patients in Scotland, found that most had heard of oral cancer but they didn’t think their symptoms were indicative of the life–threatening illness.
Furthermore, 40 percent of the participants decided to self manage their symptoms and sought over–the–counter treatments which were suggested by a pharmacist.
Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter said the study further confirms gaps in understanding and awareness of oral cancer.
Dr Carter said: “Public awareness of oral cancer and the associated risk factors appears to be too low here in the UK. An awareness of the risk factors and symptom recognition by the public is a critical issue in determining survival rates, as early detection greatly improves the chances of survival.
Almost 90 percent of patients who were interviewed had a prior knowledge of oral cancer and the causes such as tobacco and alcohol. However, this prior knowledge was neither instrumental for them to suspect they may have mouth cancer nor did it prompt them to visit a healthcare professional in the first place.
None of the interviewees thought it would happen to them.
A third of interviewees mentioned their first sign as some kind of ‘lump’, a few described a ‘white spot’ ‘mark’ or ‘patch’ and two described an abscess. Exactly 40 percent said their mouth felt sore while just fewer than 30 percent said they felt no pain or soreness at all.
It was also found that wasting time of a healthcare professional or appearing to be a hypochondriac was a delaying factor in patients seeking help.
“The custom of not bothering the GP or dentist unless it was thought as “serious” is a big obstacle for earlier access. Much research supports the notion that greater awareness of oral cancer and its symptoms is required. We need to let the public know that if their symptoms continue past three weeks then they need a professional opinion.”
Mouth cancer is a potentially fatal condition that is taking more lives each year. Without early diagnosis chances of survival plummet down to 50 percent.
For those attempting self treatment there was an inevitably some delay in visiting their GP or dentist. This period of delay in these cases ranged from a few days to two months. The period of time which elapsed between the interviewees noticing their symptoms and them making contact with a health care professional varied from a few days to a year, although two thirds saw someone within eight weeks.
Participants who had taken part were all in their thirties and forties and from Scotland.
Mouth cancer has previously been found to be more common in men than women and people over the age of 40, though an increasing number of women and young people are developing the condition.
Tobacco and alcohol are thought to contribute to at least three–quarters of mouth cancer cases.
Poor diet is linked to a third of all cancer cases. Evidence shows an increase in fruit and vegetables lowers the risk, as can fish and eggs.
Around 5,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with mouth cancer each year, claiming the lives of almost 2,000, making it the UK’s fastest growing cancer.
That is why the charity, who organises Mouth Cancer Action Month during November, strongly advises people of all ages to start checking their mouths more frequently and continue to attend their check–ups on a regular basis.
Dr Carter added: “It is tremendously important to follow our Mouth Cancer Action Month campaign slogan: ‘If in doubt, get checked out.’”
For information and expert advice on mouth cancer and other oral health issues call the National Dental Helpline on 0845 063 1188, alternatively visit the website at www.mouthcancer.org.
The Scottish research, entitled ‘The experiences of young oral cancer patients in Scotland: symptom recognition and delays in seeking professional help’, was conducted by lead author Liz Grant, a Public Health Pharmacist from NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde.
The study was published in the British Dental Journal in May.
Oral cancer affects the lip, mouth or tongue, and around 600 new oral cancer cases are identified in Scotland each year.
For further information please contact the Foundation’s Press Office on 01788 539 792 or email [email protected]
For information and expert advice on mouth cancer and other oral health issues call the Dental Helpline on 0845 063 1188, alternatively visit the website at www.mouthcancer.org.
In the UK around 5,000 are diagnosed with mouth cancer each year.
Mouth cancer is more common in men than women, but the gap is closing.
Mouth cancer is more likely to affect people over 40 years of age, though an increasing number of young people are developing the condition.
Smoking is the number one cause for mouth cancer. Cigarette smoke converts saliva into a deadly cell–damaging cocktail.
Switching to low–tar cigarettes will not help, as smokers of ‘lights’ tend to inhale more smoke than smokers of ‘regular’ cigarettes.
Alcohol aids absorption of smoke into the mouth – people who smoke and drink alcohol to excess are 30 times more likely to develop mouth cancer.
It is recommended that people enjoy a healthy, balanced diet, including food from each of the major food groups and including fruit and vegetables of all different colours as each colour contains different vitamins.