Shetland oral health team’s walk to raise awareness of mouth cancer

More people in the UK will lose their battle with mouth cancer if we do not get into the habit of checking for signs of the disease at home, according to the Oral Health Foundation.

18 November, 2021 / infocus
 Will Peakin  

The NHS oral health improvement team in Shetland embarked on a walk around Lerwick yesterday to raise awareness of mouth cancer for Mouth Cancer Action Month’s Blue Wednesday.

New research by the charity and Denplan, part of Simplyhealth, has shown that almost two-in-three (64%) have never checked themselves for signs of cancer in or around the mouth.

Carried out as part of November’s Mouth Cancer Action Month, the investigation also found that more than one-in-four (27%) do not know any of the potential early warning signs for the disease.

More than 2,700 people in the UK lost their life to mouth cancer last year – a 48% rise compared to a decade ago.  With almost half (45%) of all mouth cancers diagnosed in stage IV, the most advanced phase of the disease, the Oral Health Foundation is appealing for more people to routinely look for signs of mouth cancer.

According to Dr Nigel Carter, Chief Executive of the charity, a simple check could save your life. “Being able to spot mouth cancer early is crucial for beating the disease.  An early diagnosis boosts the chances of survival and gives patients a much better quality of life after treatment. Sadly, far too many mouth cancers are caught late. This is one of the key reasons behind the recent increase in deaths,” he said.

“One of the easiest ways we can reduce the number of lives lost to mouth cancer is by getting into the habit of checking for signs of the disease at home.  Taking a careful look around your mouth for signs of cancer takes no more than 45 seconds so there’s no reason why more of us shouldn’t be doing it.  Getting into the habit of checking the mouth allows us to quickly identify anything out of the ordinary.  Any unusual changes to the mouth should then be looked at by a dentist or doctor.”

In Lerwick, the town hall was lit-up in blue as part of the oral health improvement team’s efforts to raise awareness.

The most common signs of mouth cancer include a mouth ulcer that does not heal within three weeks, red or white patches in the mouth, and any lumps or swellings. Persistent hoarseness, or numbness on the lip or tongue, can also be an early sign of mouth cancer. Almost 9,000 people in the UK were diagnosed with mouth cancer last year – a 58% increase compared to a decade ago. Despite a rise in the number of cases, awareness of mouth cancer remains low.

The findings by the Oral Health Foundation and Denplan show less than half are able to identify the most common signs such as non-healing mouth ulcers (43%) and lumps and swellings around the mouth, head and neck (48%).  Even less know that red patches (39%) and white patches (30%) in the mouth are common signs, while other symptoms like persistent hoarseness were known by as few as one-in-five (20%).

Clinical Director at Denplan, part of Simplyhealth, Dr Catherine Rutland, believes more must be done to increase awareness of mouth cancer. “With increasing rates of diagnosis and delays with access to provision of routine dental care caused by Covid, it feels more important than ever to raise awareness of mouth cancer.  We want the public to know that going for a routine dental examination is not just to check for tooth decay or gum disease, but to have a mouth cancer check as well,” she said.

“Shockingly, in research we commissioned to explore the public’s awareness of mouth cancer, 80% said they do not recall any public health messages about mouth cancer.  Given the prevalence of mouth cancer in the UK, this presents a huge public awareness challenge. If more patients are aware of the risks, signs and symptoms then we can help people make positive lifestyle choices, remain vigilant to any changes in their mouth, and seek professional help at the earliest stage. Ultimately, we can help to save lives.”

As part of November’s Mouth Cancer Action Month, Denplan and the Oral Health Foundation are urging people to learn more about mouth cancer. In Lerwick, the town hall was lit-up in blue as part of the Shetland oral health improvement team’s efforts to raise awareness.

The charity campaign is all about being ‘mouth aware’ by knowing how to identify the early warning signs of the disease, and act on any unusual changes to the mouth quickly. You can find more information on mouth cancer by going to and by following the campaign on social media via #MouthCancerAction.

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