Oral or mouth cancer is an abnormal growth that can occur in any part of the mouth. With around 4,000 new cases reported each year, it represents about 1% of all cancers in the UK and the numbers are increasing.
Mouth cancer is curable, but small cancers are more easily treatable. It is important that the condition is diagnosed and treated early - usually by radiotherapy or surgery. Mouth reconstruction may also be needed if cancer is extensive. If severe, oral cancer can spread and prove fatal.
The dental examination plays an important role in early detection. The British Dental Association has calculated that if cancers are detected early the chance of surviving for five years or more is around 80%, compared with the average of 50%
Historically, oral cancer usually affected older men but the typical profile is widening now and increasingly younger people and women are seen with the condition. The most common site is the side of the tongue, but cancers can occur anywhere in the mouth - typically on or under the tongue, the floor or roof of the mouth, behind the teeth, on the gums or inside the cheek.
Most cases of mouth cancer are linked to tobacco and alcohol. Cigarette, cigar or pipe smoking; chewing tobacco, paan, gutkha or betel quid and the excessive use of alcohol are the main risk factors. Other causes include persistent Candida (yeast) infections of the mouth, viruses, immune deficiency disease, chronic irritation of the mouth (e.g. dentures that do not fit or broken, rough edges of teeth), sunlight or radiation, dietary deficiencies or anaemia.