Scottish professors provide advice on mouth cancer

Two leading Scottish practitioners are putting their weight behind this year’s Mouth Cancer Action Month by highlighting their key messages for prevention and detection of the disease

19 November, 2015 / infocus

As Mouth Cancer Action Month kicks off, Scottish practitioners are being advised of the key messages to pass on to their patients.

Professor David Conway, professor of dental public health at the University of Glasgow, said: “I would say that the key prevention messages for patients is that they can reduce their mouth cancer risk by stopping smoking – it is never too late; avoiding heavy alcohol consumption and certainly don’t smoke and drink alcohol heavily because the risks multiply.

“The message is one thing, but making patients change behaviour is another. In all areas, there are specialist referral services for both smoking and alcohol counselling, which every practitioner should become familiar with.”

Professor Conway said that dentists and patients need to also be aware that, while mouth cancer can occur at any age, in both sexes, and across the socioeconomic spectrum, the determinants which are difficult to modify and which carry greater risk are: low socioeconomic circumstances (i.e. poverty – individual or area-based measures); age – risk increases with age to a peak at 70-75 years (out of 494 cases of mouth cancer in 2013, there were only 23 in those under 45 years); and sex – men continue to have greater risk than women.

Professor Graham Ogden, professor of oral surgery and honorary consultant in oral surgery at Dundee Dental School, said: “While it’s true that risk increases with age, it is important to remember that you don’t have to be old to get mouth cancer – one in 10 cases is under 45 years of age.

“And, while 75-80 per cent of oral cancers are found in people who smoke and drink heavily, that still leaves approximately one in five people where no obvious risk factor can be found.

“In summary, if patients have any lump or lesion in the mouth (for example a red or red/white patch) or neck or an ulcer that does not heal in two weeks, they should attend their dentist – if in doubt, get it checked out.”

Mouth Cancer Action Month takes place throughout November. For more information on the campaign, visit

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