Mouth cancer awareness

There are more than 700 cases of cancer of the mouth (oral cavity and pharynx) reported in Ireland every year. These cancers are more common in men than in women. However this is changing.

The incidence rate 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 less of 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 this continues to improve each year.

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

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.

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 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.

Meet Julita, a cancer survivor

More information about mouth cancer

For more in-depth information about mouth cancer, visit our mouth cancer information pages here, where you will find information about the signs and symptoms of mouth, head and neck cancer, and an outline of risk factors and prevention of mouth, head and neck cancer.

Date Last Reviewed: 
Monday, September 16, 2019