The 27th of July each year is World Head and Neck Cancer Day.
There are over 500,000 cases and 200,000 head and neck cancer-related deaths globally each year. With greater awareness of the signs and symptoms to look out for, some of these cases can be preventable.
What is it?
Mouth cancer, also known as oral cancer, describes one of the areas where head and neck cancers can occur and includes various kinds of tumors affecting the:
- Salivary glands
- Inside of the cheeks
Cancers further back around the root of the tongue, soft palate, tonsils, and the upper part of the throat (the pharynx) are more properly called pharyngeal cancer. Although there are several different cancers that can occur in these areas, the most common is called squamous cell carcinoma, which arises from the surface cells of the skin.
Throat cancer is not a precise term but is usually understood to mean cancers in the pharynx (the hollow tube between the nose and windpipe) and the larynx (voice box) and upper part of the esophagus (food tube leading to the stomach).
Cancer affecting the nasal cavity and paranasal air sinuses is also included in head and neck cancers.
Mouth and throat cancer can grow and spread very quickly so it is essential that you see a GP or dentist as soon as possible if you think you may have any of the signs and symptoms.
Warning signs & symptoms
It’s important to look out for warning signs and seek the professional opinion of your doctor or dentist. These are symptoms to look out for:
- White or red patch on the gums, tongue, or lining of the mouth
- Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable
- Unusual bleeding or pain in the mouth
- Trouble breathing or speaking
- Pain when swallowing
- Ear pain
- Pain in the neck or throat that does not go away
- Frequent coughing
- Unexplained weight loss
- Unexplained bad breath
The simple oral cancer self-screening
Here are 7 steps to self-screen at home in under 5 minutes.
- Examine yourself in the mirror with a bright light. Check for unusual swelling, lumps, and bumps.
- Pay attention to your skin and note any changes in the colour or size of sores, moles, or other growths.
- Press your fingers along the sides and front of your neck. Do you feel any tenderness or swelling?
- Pull your lower lip out and look for sores. Use your thumb and forefinger to feel the upper and lower lips for lumps or texture changes.
- Examine the insides of your cheeks for red, white, or dark patches. Gently squeeze and roll each cheek between your index finger and thumb to check for bumps and tenderness.
- Tilt your head back to check the roof of your mouth. Run your finger along the surface. Do you feel or see any unusual lumps or discolouration?
- Check out each side of your tongue. Look at the top, bottom, left and right sides of your tongue—including the soft tissue under it. Once again, check for swelling, discolouration or unusual lumps.
For more details and images of symptoms, please check out the Mouth Cancer Foundation Website.