Mouth cancer, also known as oral cancer, is where a tumour develops in a part of the mouth. It may be on the surface of the tongue, the inside of the cheeks, the roof of the mouth (palate), the lips or gums. According to the NHS, early detection can boost your chance of survival from 50 percent to 90 percent.
It is therefore imperative to act on the warning signs as soon as they appear.
According to Cancer Research UK, a broken area in the lining of the mouth (ulcer) that will not heal is a common symptom of mouth cancer.
There is also a secondary symptom of cancer that is associated with a particular taste.
Speaking to the Express.co.uk, Luke Cascarini, Consultant Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon at London Bridge Hospital,(part of HCA UK), explained: “If you have got the cancer in your mouth and it is fungating, then you will be able to taste that you have ‘rotten meat’ in your mouth.
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“However, cancers do not kill your tastebuds, they just invade the tongue.
According to Cascarini, you might have a different taste in your mouth because as cancers grow, they decay in the middle and it can taste like you have rotten meat in your mouth.
He explained: “When cancers are small, they are getting enough blood supply so they can stay alive. When they grow so big, the blood vessels cannot feed the middle of the cancer, so the middle part dies.”
As the cancer gets bigger, you may find you have a horrible taste in your mouth, which also smells bad, he said.
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It is akin to people who have really bad gum disease or tonsil disease, Cascarini added.
As he explained, numbness of your lip that comes on suddenly can also be a first sign of the cancer.
“If you notice any symptoms of mouth cancer, refer to your dentist,” Cascarini advised.
Am I at risk?
It is not known what causes mouth cancers, but there are some factors that can increase your risk of developing it.
Having any of these risk factors does not mean that you will definitely develop cancer, however.
Smoking tobacco can significantly increase your risk of developing mouth cancer.
Research suggests that more than 60 out of 100 of mouth and oropharyngeal cancers in the UK are caused by smoking.
There is some evidence that people exposed to secondhand smoke (passive smoking) at home or in the workplace may have a small increase in their risk of mouth and oropharyngeal cancer, reports Cancer Research UK.
In fact, if you both smoke and drink alcohol, this further increases your risk.
As the NHS explains, both tobacco and alcohol are carcinogenic, which means they contain chemicals that can damage the DNA in cells and lead to cancer.
“It’s not known exactly what triggers the DNA changes that lead to mouth cancer, or why only a small number of people develop it,” says the NHS.
Other risk factors for mouth cancer include:
- Chewing tobacco or other smokeless tobacco products
- Chewing betel nuts with or without added tobacco
- An unhealthy diet
- The human papillomavirus (HPV).