Mouth Cancer Awareness Day

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Mouth Cancer Awareness Day 2019 – Wednesday, September 18

Mouth cancer is an important global healthcare problem. There are more than 700 cases of mouth, head and neck cancer reported in Ireland every year. More than 400 of these cancers effect the mouth (oral cavity and pharynx). These cancers are more common in men than in women. However, the occurance of cancer of the mouth in women has increased significantly at a rate of 3% per year since 1994. It mainly affects older people although younger people are being diagnosed now. In Britain, the incidence of mouth cancer has increased faster than any other cancer in the past 25 years.

According to the National Cancer Registry in Ireland, roughly half of all mouth cancers and even fewer cancers of the pharynx are diagnosed at an early stage. This can result in more complex treatment with greater impact on quality of life and overall survival. Whilst it depends on the cancer site, we know that more than half of those treated will have good survival outcomes and these continue to improve each year. 

Early detection of mouth cancer greatly improves the chances of survival. 

To find out more about mouth cancer, the signs and symptoms, the risk factors or other information about cancer please follow the link

Dentists have a key role to play in the early detection of mouth cancer and in the prevention of the disease by identifying those patients who are exposed to risk factors.

The next time you attend your dentist for a check-up, you will also have a mouth cancer exam as part of your routine dental check-up.The examination is quick and painless. 

How can I make sure that my mouth stays healthy?

  1. Visit a dentist regularly even if you wear dentures. This is especially important if you smoke and drink alcohol.
  2. When brushing your teeth, look out for any changes in your mouth or neck. Early warning signs include ulcers that do not heal within three weeks, red or white patches in the mouth, or other unusual changes in the mouth or neck.
  3. When exposed to the sun, make sure to use the correct type of barrier cream on your lips.
  4. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. A good diet, rich in vitamins A, C and E, helps the body to protect itself from most cancers.
  5. Avoid the risk factors for mouth cancer. These include:
    • Smoking tobacco – cigarettes, roll-ups, cigars, pipes or cannabis.
    • Excessive alcohol consumption.
    • Using both tobacco and alcohol together – this greatly increases your risk.
    • Excessive exposure to sunlight or radiation (for lip cancer).
    • Chewing tobacco, betelguid, gutkha and paan.
    • A diet lacking in fruit and vegetables.
    • Viral infections, e.g., human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV can be spread through oral sex.

If you are concerned about cancer, worried about symptoms or you just want to know more about how you can reduce your risk of getting cancer why not talk to a specialist cancer nurse on the National Cancer Helpline on freefone 1 800 200 700. The opening hours are 9.00am-7.00pm Monday to Thursday and 9.00am-5.00pm on Fridays. You can email the nurse also or talk to a nurse live on cancerchat or talk to others in the cancerforum at

John's Survivor Story

Hi, my name is John, and it’s now nine years since I was first diagnosed as a ‘head and neck’ cancer patient.

I don’t know why, I never thought this would happen to me. In 2009 I was 54 years old, self-employed, a non-smoker, occasional drinker, and married with three children. I had never been ill before and thought I was ‘invincible’….so I thought!

It all started with what I would describe as a dry throat. I wasn’t too concerned about it initially and thought it was maybe a Summer cold. Then overnight a large ‘lump’ appeared on the side of my neck; I didn’t like the look of this and went immediately to my GP. I was eventually sent to an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) hospital.  At the time I had no idea of the seriousness of all of this.

The following day the hospital consultant told that the ‘lump’ on my neck and a tumour on my tongue were ‘linked’. The prognosis was not good. The plan proposed was chemotherapy to reduce the neck (lump) lymph swelling, radiotherapy to the lower tongue followed by a neck lymphectomy.  Following the cancer treatments I had neck surgery.

In my mind there weren’t options and I had complete confidence in my medical team based in a cancer ‘centre of excellence’ hospital.

One of my coping strategies during this time was counting down treatments; a quarter, a half, three quarters etc. until completion and finally the day arrived.

Recovery was slow, my body was physically exhausted from the intensive cancer treatments, surgery and probably anxiety; fatigue set in. With the help of the hospital speech therapist I learned to swallow again and get back to eating and drinking orally.

In an effort to help relieve the fatigue I slowly started exercising. This was difficult in the beginning as I was so unfit. Finally I started to build up strength and started running which I find is not only great for physical fitness but also for mental wellbeing.

It is a real shock and scary when the word cancer is first mentioned. But I am so grateful now to be back on my bike; to be back at work. I realise that I am one of the lucky ones. I now know I am not invincible.  I am fairly certain that it was because my cancer was detected early that I am here today. That is why it is so important to consult promptly with your doctor if you suspect any ‘lump’ on your neck or dentist if you notice anything different within your mouth.

Thanks so much to all the hospital medical teams at St. James’s Hospital, St. Luke’s and the Dental Hospital in Dublin. I am also indebted to ARC Cancer support and the Irish Cancer Society for their support. I am now a peer supporter in the ‘Survivor supporting Survivors’ programme with the Irish Cancer Society. I am a member of Mouth Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Ireland (MHNCAI), I want to do all I can to raise awareness of Mouth Cancer. Mouth Cancer Awareness Day takes place on Wednesday, 18th September 2019.