Mouth cancer

What is mouth cancer?


Also known as Oral Cancer, Mouth Cancer is where a tumour develops in any part of the mouth such as the surface of the tongue, the inside of the cheeks, the roof of the mouth (palate), the lips or gums.

Tumours can also develop in the glands that produce saliva, the tonsils at the back of the mouth, and the part of the throat connecting your mouth to your windpipe (pharynx); these however are less common with most cases appearing on the tongue and tonsils.


Although people from BME groups are less likely to get cancer, certain lifestyle factors can increase the risk of cancer in these groups. For Bangladeshi men who chew betel and other tobacco containing products there can be a higher incidence of oropharyngeal cancers.

What are the risk factors to be aware of?

Awareness on the major risk factors of mouth cancer remains low.

According to State of Mouth Cancer UK Report 2018/2019, here are some key findings about mouth cancer in the UK:


  • Mouth cancer is the 6th most common cancer in the world, but it's much less common in the UK​

  • Around 8,300 people are diagnosed with mouth cancer each year in the UK, which is about 1 in every 50 cancers diagnosed

  • The ten-year survival rate is between 19% and 58%, depending on where the cancer strikes and how early it is diagnosed.

  • Men are more likely to get mouth cancer than women. This may be because, on average, men tend to drink more alcohol than women.

  • Better lifestyle choices, earlier diagnosis and improved access to dentistry are some of the key challenges in confronting mouth cancer.

  • 46% of oral cavity cancer cases in the UK are preventable.

Symptoms can include any of the following:

  • Mouth ulcers that are painful and do not heal within several weeks

  • Unexplained, persistent lumps in the mouth or the neck that do not go away

  • Unexplained loose teeth or sockets that do not heal after extractions

  • Unexplained, persistent numbness or an odd feeling on the lip or tongue

  • Sometimes, white or red patches on the lining of the mouth or tongue which can be
    early signs of cancer, so they should also be checked

  • Changes in speech, such as a lisp

Action to take


There are three main treatment options for mouth cancer often used in combination:


  • Surgery to remove the cancerous cells, along with a tiny bit of the surrounding normal tissue or cells to ensure the cancer is completely removed

  • Radiotherapy – where beams of radiation are directed at the cancerous cells

  • Chemotherapy – where powerful medicines are used to kill cancerous cells

As well as trying to cure mouth cancer, treatment will focus on preserving important functions of the mouth, such as breathing, speaking and eating. Maintaining the appearance of your  mouth will also be a high priority.

The everyday choices we make can affect our chances of developing mouth cancer.


Here are several ways  we can reduce the risk of developing the disease:


  • Not smoking or using tobacco in other ways, such as not chewing tobacco

  • Regular visits to your dentist are so important. Attending appointments as often as they recommend makes it  likely that any problems will be caught as early as possible.

  • Ensuring you do not drink more than the recommended weekly guideline for alcohol.

  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet that includes fresh vegetables (particularly tomatoes), citrus fruits, olive oil and fish.