More awareness of mouth cancer needed

  • Deborah Condon

A survivor of mouth cancer who discovered he had the disease after availing of a free oral examination on Mouth Cancer Awareness Day two years ago, is appealing to people to follow his example this year.

Every year on Mouth Cancer Awareness Day, dentists around the country offer free mouth examinations to members of the public.

In 2011, Jimmy McGrath (58) of Cappoquinn in Waterford decided to go for one, not realising that the five-minute examination would change his life.

"I had a spot on the roof of my mouth which wouldn't go away. A family member heard about Mouth Cancer Awareness Day and I went to Cork University Dental School and Hospital and had an exam.

"They knew straightaway there was a problem and they arranged for an appointment with a specialist within days. It doesn't cost anything and I would recommend it to everyone to have an exam. People think it's never going to happen to me, but sometimes it does," he explained.

Mr McGrath underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy, however a biopsy showed that the tumour was still present. As a result, he opted for surgery. The operation lasted over 13 hours and involved the removal of his teeth and the reconstruction of the roof of his mouth.

Three-hundred people are diagnosed with mouth cancer every year in Ireland and two people die from the disease every week. Signs can include a sore or ulcer in the mouth that does not heal within three weeks, white or red patches inside the mouth, a lump in the mouth or neck and a persistent sore throat or hoarseness.

"The cause of mouth cancer is not fully known but your risk is greater if you smoke or consume excess alcohol, especially spirits. If you do both, the risk is greater again. If you or someone you know hasn't visited the dentist in a long time, we would urge you to come along and bring your friend or family member for an exam on Mouth Cancer Awareness Day," said Dr Conor McAlister of the Irish Dental Association (IDA).

According to the National Cancer Registry in Ireland, around half of all mouth cancer cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage. This can impact quality of life and survival rates.

Less than half of people diagnosed with the disease survive more than five years. However, if detected early, the chances of survival are greatly enhanced.

Mouth Cancer Awareness Day takes place on Wednesday, September 18. Free mouth cancer examinations will be available at the Cork University Dental School and Hospital and at more than 500 participating dental surgeries nationwide.

A list of participating dentists can be found here. Members of the public are asked to phone the surgery to find out the exact times that examinations are taking place.

This marks the fourth year of this awareness campaign. Since 2010, some 18,000 free examinations have been carried out on members of the public and 21 cases of mouth cancer have been diagnosed.

The event was started by a group of mouth, neck and head cancer survivors and since 2011, it has had the full backing of the IDA.

"This disease doesn't get as much attention as other cancers but it is very important that people become aware of the risk factors. Raising awareness is what Mouth Cancer Awareness Day is all about. But many people will also have to take the next step and make necessary lifestyle changes," Dr McAlister noted.

Anyone with concerns about mouth or any other type of cancer can call the National Cancer Helpline on 1800 200 700.


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