Around 700 cases of mouth, head and neck cancer are newly diagnosed in Ireland every year and it is important that people are aware of the disease and its symptoms, experts have said.
According to Dr Kieran O'Connor, president of the Irish Dental Association, symptoms can include a sore or ulcer in the mouth that does not heal within three weeks. However, the disease can be detected as part of a routine dental visit.
"If you smoke and drink the chances of you getting oral cancer are up to 40 times greater. However, the lack of risk factors does not preclude oral cancer diagnosis. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is also associated with certain types of mouth, head and neck cancer. Whatever the cause, the key point to remember is that early detection saves lives," he noted.
This issue is being highlighted to mark Mouth Cancer Awareness Day (September 19) and as part of this event, Mouth Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Ireland (MHNCAI) is collaborating with the Irish Men's Shed's Association to raise awareness of the disease.
It will be running a social media campaign in order to target men over the age of 50, as they are one of the high-risk groups for mouth cancer.
"This year's campaign is putting a particular emphasis on men who have not attended their local dentist for a while. We're encouraging them to attend their dentist or doctor if they have any concerns, and to have regular dental check-ups even if they have no remaining natural teeth," explained Dr Eleanor O'Sullivan, a senior lecturer in oral surgery at Cork University Dental School and Hospital.
She noted that as part of this campaign, dentists have volunteered to give talks to Men's Sheds participants in up to 20 Men's' Sheds around the country on various dates during the month of September.
"This is excellent and we hope many more will happen in subsequent months. This is a great opportunity to meet local men in the community and to share the message with them about the signs, symptoms, risk factors and the importance of early detection and the dentists' role in this," Dr O'Sullivan noted.
One of her previous patients is Stephen Fagan, who worked as a brick layer in Cork during the recession. He is urging anyone who has concerns over lumps or swelling in their mouth or throat to get it checked out.
Since work was dropping off during the recession, he decided to go ahead with a hernia operation that he had been putting off for some time. While in hospital, he asked the doctors to check a jelly bean-sized lump on the side of his neck. This was removed, but was found to be cancerous.
Mr Fagan began a course of aggressive cancer treatment and admits that it was two years before he felt better.
"I've been clear for nine years now, but I get checked every six months. It was the hernia that got me into hospital and as my wife says, the recession saved my life. I'd advise anyone out there with concerns to go for a check-up as soon as possible. The earlier it's caught, the better," he said.
Other signs to watch out for include white or red patches inside the mouth, a persistent sore throat or hoarseness.
People who have not visited the dentist in a long time are urged you to go and get checked out. Everyone who has a medical card is entitled to a free annual examination, while most other people will be covered under the PRSI scheme, Dr O'Connor pointed out.
For more information on mouth cancer, click here or call the National Cancer Helpline on 1800 200 700.
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