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Mouth Cancer

Mouth cancer, also known as oral cancer, is a condition that can form in most areas of the mouth. According to the NHS, in 2011 approximately 6,797 people in the UK were diagnosed with mouth cancer. Due to the location of symptoms, a dentist rather than a doctor will more likely diagnose mouth cancer.

Symptoms of mouth cancer

Mouth cancer can occur on various areas of the mouth including the tongue, the lips, the inside of the cheek, in the gums and the throat. According to experts, detecting mouth cancer in its early stages can increase survival changes by 90%. Knowing how to spot the symptoms of mouth cancer is therefore crucial.

Known symptoms of mouth cancer include:

  • Red or white patches on your tongue or in the mouth
  • A lump
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Pain experienced in the mouth
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Bleeding or lack of sensation in the mouth
  • Unexplained changes in your voice
  • Weight loss that cannot be explained
  • Swollen glands
  • Loose teeth
  • Trouble moving your jaw

Although some of the above symptoms can also be the result of another health condition, it is strongly advised to see a medical professional if symptoms persist longer than three weeks. It is also advised that you have frequent dental check-ups, as your dentist will be able to detect the disease in its early stages. Those who drink alcohol excessively, smoke, suffer from tooth decay or gum disease are particularly encouraged to receive regular oral check ups.

What causes mouth cancer?

There are a number of risk factors that have been recognised as causes of mouth cancer. These include:

Smoking Alcohol
Poor diet Chewing tobacco
Poor oral hygiene Human papilloma virus (HPV)

Smoking, excessive alcohol drinking and tobacco chewing have been acknowledged by health professionals as leading risk factors for mouth cancer. However in recent years there has been an increase in HPV-related mouth cancer cases. Although HPV is in itself not actually cancerous, it can affect the cells, causing abnormal tissue growth. This can eventually lead to cancer.

Treating mouth cancer

The earlier mouth cancer is detected, the greater the chance of a full recovery. The three main treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. In most cases, patients will need a combination of these treatments to successfully remove the cancer and prevent it from returning.

More information on the various treatment options for mouth cancer can be found on the NHS website.

HPV, oral sex and cancer

In recent years, HPV has been widely acknowledged as a risk factor for oral cancers. The human papilloma virus affects the skin found in areas of the body that are exposed to moisture, such as the mouth, rectum, cervix and throat. HPV can be contracted through unprotected sexual activity. As the type of HPV found in the mouth is almost certain to be related to sexual activity, it is highly likely that oral sex is a risk factor for mouth cancer.

Unprotected oral sex also carries the risk of STI transmission, including genital herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis.

Most people who have unprotected sex are exposed to a form of HPV, but for the most part this is a lower risk form of HPV that for some people could lead to genital warts.

HPV contracted through sexual activity, such as vaginal and anal sex, has also been associated with other types of cancer such as cervical, vaginal, anal, penile and laryngeal cancer.

The infographic below explains the rise in HPV- related mouth cancer.

Can Oral Sex Cause Mouth Cancer?
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