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What is Mouth cancer?

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Author: Kate Peterson

Mouth cancers are most common in males over the age of 50. Smokers are six times more likely to develop mouth cancer than those who do not smoke and the use of smokeless tobacco products, such as dip, snuff or chewing tobacco, may also increase the risk of cancers of the cheek, gums and lining of the lips by about 50 times. Mouth cancer can be cancer of the lip, tongue, gums and floor of the mouth. Though not so common but it can occur on the inside of the cheeks and the palate. Mouth cancer is a type of head and neck cancer. It can occur in many different areas of your mouth, including your lips, tongue, gums, floor of the mouth (under the tongue), inside the cheeks and on the palate (roof of the mouth).

Mouth cancer, like other cancers, isn't infectious and can't be passed on to other people. Mouth cancers have a higher proportion of deaths per number of cases than breast cancer, cervical cancer or skin melanoma. In the UK, there has been a 19% increase in cases from 3,673 in 1995 to 4,405 in 2002 and 13,000 people in the UK are currently living in the shadow of this debilitating disease. Mouth cancers are more common in people over 40, particularly men. However, research has shown that mouth cancer is becoming more common in younger patients and in women.

Mouth cancer strikes in a number of different places: the lips, the gums, and many other parts of the mouth. Early detection of mouth cancer through the recognition of mouth cancer symptoms is important in the effectiveness of treatment. Mouth cancer can occur in a number of different places including the gums, tongue, cheek, lips and other parts of the mouth. In the U.S., about 30,000 new mouth cancer cases occur annually. Mouth cancer is at the same time an important form of cancer, and one for which practical prospects for prevention already exist. Against this background of a continually increasing trend among younger persons, it seems essential to engage upon programmes of prevention, including increasing awareness for early detection, against mouth cancer at the present time.

Mouth cancer survival rate has risen slightly over the last 20 years. Of all those people diagnosed with mouth cancer or cancer of the mouth and oropharynx, about 55 out of every 100 diagnosed (55%) live for at least 5 years.

Survival rates once mouth cancer has spread are as low as 50 per cent. Early detection of mouth cancer can save lives, so people should look out for non-healing ulcers, red and white patches in the mouth or unusual changes in the mouth. Survival statistics must be viewed with caution, and should not be used to predict individual response to treatment.

Treatment continues in the absence of unacceptable toxicity. Patients are followed at 4-6 weeks, then every 6 months until death. Treatment usually consists of surgical removal of all cancerous tissue, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. A new treatment called Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is also being used on some types of cancer of the mouth.

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