Word of mouth

November is Mouth Cancer Action Month and community pharmacies are being urged to get behind the campaign

The Oral Health Foundation is encouraging pharmacy teams to be alert to customers presenting with possible signs of mouth cancer during November’s Mouth Cancer Action Month. 

The call follows a survey by the charity, which found that one in 10 people would seek advice at their pharmacy if they had a mouth ulcer that had not healed within a few weeks – a potential symptom of mouth cancer.  

As a result, the foundation is urging pharmacy staff to ask customers with mouth ulcers how long the ulcers have been present and refer them straight to a doctor or dentist if the answer is three weeks or more. Other warning signs include red or white patches inside the mouth and unusual lumps or swellings in the head or neck area. 

Early diagnosis

In the UK, mouth cancer cases have increased by 39 per cent over the last decade and by 92 per cent since the 1970s, while survival rates have not improved in the last 20 years. However, early detection can greatly improve a patient’s chances of successful treatment. 

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation, said: “By offering quick and accurate advice, a pharmacist can play a key role in potentially saving somebody’s life. Early diagnosis transforms a person’s chances of beating the disease from 50 to 90 per cent, so it is crucial that pharmacy staff know what to be on the lookout for.” 

Risk factors

The survey also uncovered a lack of awareness of the risk factors for mouth cancer among the public. One in five respondents did not associate smoking with mouth cancer and just under half were unaware of the link between excess alcohol consumption and the disease. Furthermore, 81 per cent did not know that the human papillomavirus (HPV) could also cause mouth cancer. 

Dr Carter added: “Mouth cancer can affect anyone so everybody needs to be able to recognise and act on the early warning signs in order to improve early diagnosis and help save lives.”

For more information about Mouth Cancer Action Month, visit: mouthcancer.org.

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