Over 400 cases of Mouth, Head & Neck Cancer (MHNC) are diagnosed every year in Ireland. Mouth, head & neck cancer can affect your lips, gums cheeks, tongue, palate, tonsils, throat (oropharynx), salivary glands, sinuses, nose and voice box (larynx).

Oral cancer incidence increases with age. The incidence of oral cancer is considerably higher in males than in females, although more women are being diagnosed in recent years.

Both smoking and alcohol are important independent risk factors and there is now convincing evidence that their combined effect is greater than the sum of the risks associated with either. Also there is evidence of a dose response between tobacco smoking, the more one smokes the greater the risk of oral cancer.

Although oral cancer can occur without any pre-cancer signs, there are a number of well established pre-cancerous lesions also linked with smoking and alcohol consumption. Many of these have a whitish colour and may not be painful.

While the number of these lesions such as leukoplakia which will become cancerous is extremely low, nevertheless a considerably higher proportion of people with these lesions develop oral cancer.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of mouth, head and neck cancer can include:

  • A sore or ulcer in your mouth that does not heal
  • White or red patches inside the mouth
  • A lump in the mouth or neck
  • Thickening or hardening of the cheek or tongue
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing or moving the tongue
  • Numbness of the tongue or face
  • A persistent sore throat and hoarseness
  • Persistent nosebleeds and a stuffy nose
  • Unexplained loose teeth.

Remember, these symptoms can also be due to complaintsĀ otherĀ than cancer. However if you have any of these symptoms, for more than three weeks, it is important that you have them checked by your dentist or doctor.