How many of the 6 red flag signs of mouth cancer do YOU know?

CASES of mouth cancer have doubled in the UK in the last 20 years – with one person every hour being diagnosed with the disease.

The coronavirus lockdown has meant that many people have been skipping dental appointments and dentists have warned that thousands of mouth cancer cases have been left undiagnosed.

New research by the Oral Health Foundation found that seven-in-ten (71 per cent) of Brits don't know the symptoms of mouth cancer.

The research also found that 83 per cent of people don't feel confident they would spot the signs of mouth cancer, while 62 per cent confessed to never having checked their mouth for the disease.

Figures from the British Dental Association also this week revealed that 19 million treatments have been missed due to the Covid lockdown.

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation said it is important for everybody to know how to spot the early signs of mouth cancer and know how to perform a simple self-check.

But what are the six signs and how can you spot them?

1. Mouth ulcers

Research from the Oral Health Foundation revealed that 52 per cent of people know that mouth ulcers could be a sign of mouth cancer.

Dr Carter said it's important to look out for mouth ulcers – especially those that don't heal within within three weeks.

If the mouth ulcers are painful – then this could also be a sign of mouth cancer.

The Head and Neck Cancer Foundation (HNCF) states that you should focus on your tongue when it comes to spotting mouth cancer.

It said you should check both sides of the tongue carefully and the floor of the mouth for any abnormalities as these are the areas of the mouth that are most at risk.

The HNCF states that abnormalities can include red or white patches, or lumps or numb spots.

It advised that if you experience any of these then you should get them checked out by your doctor or dentist.


According to the official NHS website, mouth cancer “is where a tumour develops in the lining of the mouth.”

This may be on the tongue, the insides of the cheeks, the roof of your mouth, or on the lips or gums.

In other words, there are lots of places you can develop tumours which are difficult for sufferers to spot on their own.

While squamous cell carcinoma (abnormal cells in the skin's epidermis) is the most common form , the type of mouth cancer depends on which cell the cancer starts from.

What are the symptoms?

There are plenty of symptoms to look out for, including ulcers that don't go away within a few weeks.

However, doctors advise keeping an eye on "unexplained, persistent lumps in the mouth and neck" as well as monitoring loose teeth.

It is also a good idea to visit the dentist if you suddenly have "numbness or odd feeling on the lip or tongue" as this could be a sign of mouth cancer.

Alternatively, if you develop any unexplained change in speech (such as a lisp), this is also worth getting checked out

2. Red or white patches

Just 41 per cent of people know that red patches in the mouth are a sign of mouth cancer, while 48 per cent know that white patches could be a sign.

If you have red or white patches they will usually be on the lining of the mouth or on the tongue.

To check for this you can tilt your head back in front of a mirror and open your mouth wide.

You should do this once a week to check for any changes in colour.

3.Unusual lumps

The research from the Oral Health Foundation found that just 47 per cent of people know that unusual lumps are a sign of mouth cancer.

Feeling your cheeks is a great way to check for lumps that aren't always visible on the face.

You should feel both the inside and outside with your fingers – it's meant to feel the same on both sides and if it doesn't then you should see a health expert.

4. Swelling

If you have mouth cancer then it's likely that you will experience swelling in the mouth, on the tongue, on your neck or your head.

Feeling your neck can help to identify swelling.

The best way to do this is to run the fingers under the jaw and feel along the large muscle either side of the neck using the balls of your fingers.

You need to be checking for any lumps or swollen areas and if everything feels the same on both sides.

5. Hoarseness

Just 23 per cent of people know that hoarseness is a symptom of mouth cancer.

The winter months mean that many people develop cold and flu like symptoms and these can include a sore throat – which can often make us sound hoarse.

If this symptom persists it could be mouth cancer.

6. Loose teeth

Many people have missed out on dental appointments due to the pandemic, which means many people have not been able to go for check ups – where mouth cancers can be detected.

The NHS states that teeth that feel loose or wobbly could be a sign of mouth cancer.

It also states that sockets that do not heal after extraction could be a sign.

Catherine Rutland, head dental officer of Denplan, part of Simplyhealth said that checking your mouth on a regular basis could save your life.

She says that by spotting mouth cancer early, patients have a better chance of beating the disease.

Dr Rutland says: "With early diagnosis, the chances of surviving mouth cancer are nine out of ten and that’s why knowing what to look out for is so important. 

“A simple self-examination should involve checking your cheeks, gums, lips, tongues and tonsils.

"Also check the floor and roof of the mouth, as well as your head and neck. You should be looking for mouth ulcers that don’t heal within three weeks, red or white patches in the mouth or unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth, head and neck."

She added that if you notice anything unusual then you should get checked out by your dentist or doctor.

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