November marks Mouth Cancer Action Month which aims to bring awareness to the eighth most common cancer in the UK.
Here at mydentist, we’re helping to raise awareness by telling the stories of our patients who have been affected, including Jill Tempest who attends our Padiham Road practice in Burnley.
Many people would assume that mouth cancer only affects people who are heavy smokers or drinkers. However, that’s just not the case as Jill discovered.
Jill was diagnosed with mouth cancer in 2004 at the age of 60. Although she had occasionally smoked in her teens, Jill had led a healthy lifestyle and was an independent resuscitation trainer when she had a check-up with Dr Ruth Patefield. During that appointment she mentioned a growth in her mouth.
Dr Patefield referred Jill to the local head and neck clinic and it was while under their care that a further lump was found to be cancerous.
Jill says: “Back when Dr Patefield referred me I was spending much of my time lecturing. I had a strange growth on my lip that was annoying me when I was speaking so at my next visit I asked the dentist to take a look.
She was concerned and referred me on to have it checked out. At that time, the doctors confirmed the lump was benign, but were keen to keep an eye on me. It was only a few months later that I noticed another tiny bump and Dr Patefield suggested I go straight back to have it investigated.”
Doctors at the hospital were concerned about the appearance of a second lump and organised an immediate biopsy. Squamous cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer, was confirmed and surgeons operated within days, rebuilding Jill’s mouth with tissue, artery and veins from her wrist.
She continued: “I was shocked that the second growth was cancerous. In a way the first benign lump could have saved my life because I knew that when another appeared I should investigate immediately. The cancer was tiny and wasn’t sore, so I never suspected it was anything to worry about.
After surgery I had a long period of radiotherapy, recovery and rehabilitation, but it could have been so much worse. I’d advise everyone to get anything unusual in their mouths checked out straight away.
According to the doctors, my cancer was growing fast and if we’d delayed I could have been dead within a year. I’m so grateful to Dr Patefield and the team at Royal Preston Hospital for their care and quick thinking.”
Jill continued to see doctors for around five years before she was discharged. She continues to see Dr Patefield at mydentist Padiham Road, Burnley for check-ups.
Dr Patefield said: “Jill had been a regular patient of mine for many years so when she attended with a growth on her lip it was an obvious change that needed further investigation. I was happy to hear that the initial problem was nothing to worry about, but I was very glad that she came back to see me immediately when she felt her mouth had changed. As she was still under observation by the head and neck team when the second lesion appeared they saw her straight away.
“Jill’s case shows how important it is to attend a dentist for regular check-ups as patients don’t always notice that they have a lesion in their mouth as cannot necessarily see anything.
Oral cancer is thankfully still rare in people with healthy lifestyles but early diagnosis is key. People don’t always get seen soon enough and assume that lumps, bumps and sores in their mouths will heal on their own. However, if you have any changes that don’t go away quickly it’s important to see your dentist or GP.”
Symptoms of mouth cancer can include:
- Ulcers that do not heal
- Pain or discomfort that doesn’t go away
- Red or white patches in the mouth or throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Speech problems
- A lump in the mouth, lip or throat
- Weight loss
- Bad breath
- Unusual bleeding or numbness in the mouth
- Loose teeth for no clear reason
- Difficulty moving the jaw
However, it’s important to know that no two people are the same so any symptoms that don’t improve should be checked.
For more information about mouth cancer, visit our charity partners Cancer Research UK https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/mouth-cancer/