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Diagnosis delays could be decreasing mouth cancer survival rate

Mouth cancer is rapidly becoming one of the most dangerous issues in dentistry, as more and more people fall prey to the disease. One of the main issues is the lack of awareness about mouth cancer and its symptoms. Often, people don’t realise that they are exhibiting signs of the disease, and so let it go unchecked.

However, recent research has found that even people who spot a symptom or two of mouth cancer still do not realise the seriousness of their situation. People are taking too much time before seeing a GP or other healthcare professional, which has sparked fears that the survival rate for mouth cancer could plummet.

A study of 10,297 cancer sufferers, published in the International Journal of Cancer, discovered that patients exhibiting signs of mouth cancer would wait almost a month before visiting their GP. In comparison, patients with symptoms of  bladder or renal cancer only left it two to three days before visiting a doctor.    

The British Dental Health Foundation (BDHF) similarly discovered that over half (51 per cent) of people would wait more than four weeks before visiting a GP about a non-healing ulcer.

Ulcers that do not heal within three weeks are one of the main symptoms of mouth cancer, but the research suggests that people are not aware of this fact. This is putting them at risk, as the survival rate for the disease drops the longer it takes to get it treated. Other symptoms include red and white patches, and unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth.

Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the BDHF, said: “The challenge in relation to mouth cancer is to ensure that, due to the very nature of the disease, patients are seen quickly. This makes early detection absolutely crucial in transforming survival rates.”

Mouth cancer kills more people a year than cervical and testicular cancer combined, but there is much less awareness about it.

Dr Carter said: “Our message to anyone with these symptoms is very clear – if in doubt, get checked out.”

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