Nigel Carter explains how you can support Mouth Cancer Action Month, a campaign that saves lives.
November is Mouth Cancer Action Month, an annual campaign to raise awareness about the signs and symptoms of mouth cancer.
With cases and deaths as a result of mouth cancer on the rise, the Oral Health Foundation believes strongly that early detection and prevention is the answer to reducing these numbers and saving lives. One of the biggest hurdles is the public’s lack of knowledge about the risks, signs and symptoms of mouth cancer and when to seek professional help.
By raising awareness about mouth cancer, together we have the potential to save countless lives.
At the same time, more than 2,300 people in the UK lose their life from mouth cancer a year. Many of these could have been prevented through early diagnosis.
Every year, we seem to see an increase in mouth cancer diagnoses. In the last 10 years, cases have risen by 34% in the UK. These figures are truly shocking, in a time when incidences of many other cancers are falling.
Part of the problem is that mouth cancer is being diagnosed in stage three or four, making it much more complex to treat. The latest research says that deaths from mouth cancer have increased by 46% compared with a decade ago.
Although, the majority of the general public understands that habits such as smoking can increase the chances of lung cancer, many don’t realise that it can cause mouth cancer too.
Other factors such as HPV, alcohol use and over-exposure to sunlight are also linked to other cancers, with their links to mouth cancer almost being, to a degree, ignored.
Importance of the dental team
Dental teams across the country are often the first line of defence and communication on signs, symptoms and risks of oral cancers to their patients.
Talking to your patients about their mouth cancer checks – what you are doing and why you are doing it – is a fantastic way to start a conversation around their risk factors and perhaps their overall general health. If they smoke, you could refer them to the local smoking cessation service, for help and advice on quitting or swapping to vaping.
You might be surprised; many members of the public might not even know that they are being checked for cancer when they come into your practice.
With recall intervals increasing for many patients, I would also highly encourage them how to do a mouth cancer check at home. This needs to happen more frequently in higher risk patients. A simple check for mouth cancer can make a real difference.
As dental professionals we are in a unique position, we recall our patients at regular intervals for a dental check-up, this is the opposite scenario to their GP whom they only visit when they have a problem or symptoms, which could be too late. These routine appointments, give us the opportunity to check for unusual changes in the mouth, at an earlier stage. This allows prompt referral and saves crucial treatment time, which is so important with oral cancers.
Encouraging patients to take more proactive measures such as reducing their alcohol consumption, quitting smoking, using sunscreen on their lips, and encouraging them or their children to take up the HPV vaccine if they are eligible, can be the first step to helping them take control of their physical and dental health.
The Blue Ribbon badge appeal
Simply buying and wearing one of our Blue Ribbon badges is a great way to start the conversation and raise awareness. You could even make a Blue Ribbon appeal collection box available for patients on the reception desk. Donations from the badges could help us to raise vital funds to tackle mouth cancer.
We also encourage all members of staff to wear a Blue Ribbon badge throughout the year, not just during November’s Mouth Cancer Action Month. More than 250,000 people across the country now wear them in support of the campaign and to raise awareness of mouth cancer.
If you want to know more about fundraising, reaching out to the community and getting your hands on Blue Ribbon appeal kits, visit the Mouth Cancer Action Month website www.mouthcancer.org.
The Oral Health Foundation also has resources and materials for you to educate your patients. We have display and chairside products to purchase from our online charity shop (www.dentalhealthshop.org), and digital downloads you can use across your social media platforms, website and email communications.
Mouth cancer is an incredibly cruel disease. Those who are diagnosed often bear the physical and mental scares for life. Mouth Cancer Action Month needs your support to raise awareness of mouth cancer, to improve quality of life through early diagnosis while preventing cases by encouraging healthier lifestyles.
By working together in this way, we can help stop mouth cancer in its tracks.
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