The role of self-examination in mouth cancer prognosis

The role of self-examination in mouth cancer prognosis

Tripat Mahajan speaks to Dentistry about the importance of early detection for mouth cancer prognosis, and the role that self-examination and increased awareness play in reducing risk.

How did you first get involved with the Mouth Cancer Foundation?

While working in maxillofacial surgery, I saw how mouth cancer, the treatment and its side effects can have a huge effect on oral wellbeing and quality of life. 

This is not only for the patients but their families and carers as well. I have always been passionate about oral health promotion and oral wellbeing, and carried out a project to write an oral healthcare booklet for this cohort of patients. 

The Mouth Cancer Foundation now utilises this and subsequently asked me to become a clinical ambassador. I’m so grateful for the opportunity and am keen to continue spreading awareness and education for healthcare professionals and patients alike.

Early detection for mouth cancer is critical in improving prognosis – what role does the dental team play in this?

This is a key message – early detection can improve prognosis, and therefore quality of life, significantly. 

The dental team is extremely well placed for this:

  • Raising awareness around the risk factors and risk factor control
  • Raising awareness about signs and symptoms with your patients
  • Not missing the soft tissue examination
  • Giving patients resources from the Mouth Cancer Foundation
  • Promoting the self-check examination from the Mouth Cancer Foundation. Patients can then hopefully pick up changes in their mouths a lot sooner. 

What’s the biggest change that you’d like to see from dental professionals in how they approach mouth cancer detection? 

The statistics show that most cancers are being diagnosed in the late stages. This hugely affects the long-term prognosis. 

We know the current large challenge that faces our profession is access. There is a dwindling NHS primary dental care service, and many people are finding it difficult to get an NHS appointment. However, we know that early detection is key, and therefore, I feel that self-checking should be the message that is encouraged so patients know when to seek help urgently. 

There is a self-check video on the Mouth Cancer Foundation website, which can be linked to practice TVs. In addition, the usage of social media as a business tool has increased a lot over the last few years. This has the potential to reach many people who may not even be patients of the practice yet. 

I would like to see more dental practice websites and social media accounts talking about the self-check examination and more. Who knows, it might just encourage someone to seek help, and could potentially save a life. 

According to the State of Mouth Cancer UK Report 2022, awareness of mouth cancer itself has increased, but not of the signs and symptoms. What are the most common signs to look for?

There are lots of signs and symptoms and some can be of unusual presentation. It’s important to remember to ask detailed questions in your history and do a thorough examination. 

Generally, the most common things to look out for are long lasting/non-healing ulcers, white patches, red patches, red and white patches, unexplained lumps in the mouth, head or neck, persistent pain, and dysphagia. 

What is the aim of Mouth Cancer Action Month, and what do you hope to achieve with this year’s campaign?

November’s Mouth Cancer Action Month is when the whole dental community comes together to educate and focus on the cause. This year, the Mouth Cancer Foundation would like to draw particular attention to the care home sector. 

The charity is appealing for dental practices to work alongside residential homes in their area to make sure residents receive dental checks and that care home staff can look after their residents’ oral health appropriately and check their oral cavity on a regular basis, looking for signs and symptoms of mouth cancer.

How can practices get involved in raising awareness to their patients?

There are lots of things that practices can do to engage with the message and raise awareness. 

Practice teams can get together to participate in the Mouth Cancer Foundation 10km walk and fundraise for the charity. The Walk from Home event runs until 30 November, and practice teams can promote this with their patients, walk and raise money and awareness at the same time! 

In addition, free resources can be ordered from the Mouth Cancer Foundation and displayed in the practice. 

Raising awareness is not just during Mouth Cancer Action Month, it should be year-round. Engage in the conversation with your patients about what to look out for, the signs and symptoms and risk factor control.

What resources are available?

There are multiple free resources available on the Mouth Cancer Foundation website, both for raising awareness and for cancer patients. 

For general information, there are leaflets, posters and videos covering the oral cancer screen, human papillomavirus (HPV), self-examination and symptoms. 

Regarding resources for cancer patients, there is a wealth of information available on the website, including a patient guide, oral health booklet, back-to-work guide, cookbook, how to look after wounds, mental health… the list goes on. 

In addition, there is a Facebook group and a weekly online support group for patients and carers, as it is a life-changing diagnosis to live through. 

There is also information for healthcare professionals, including information about screening, referral pathways, communicating with patients and oral care guides. 

For the extensive list of resources and further information, visit

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