The 10 symptoms of oral cancer that barely any adults know

The warning comes amid a surge in cases of head and neck cancer – of which oral is the most common form – as adults often neglect their oral health.

But adults with prolonged pain and raspy voices should be aware that it could be a sign of something much more sinister, dentists have warned.

Dr Rhona Eskander and Dr Anna Cantlay, an NHS GP, have stressed that persistent sore throats could be one of the lesser well known symptoms of mouth cancer.

Instead of relying on honey and lemon tablets or gargling salt water to soothe the pain, those constantly plagued by them should take a trip to their dentist.

Adults with prolonged pain and raspy voices should be aware that it could be a sign of something much more sinister, dentists have warned

Loose teeth, tongue pains, poorly fitting dentures and difficulty chewing food should also be taken more seriously, the dentists warned.

Worrying statistics show the prevalence of head and neck cancers has soared by nearly a third since the 1990s.

However, projections show the disease is continuing to spiral, and cases will surge by another 33 per cent in the next 20 years.

Currently it kills around 2,400 people each year in the UK, while in the US the toll is often as high as 13,000.

  1. A sore that doesn’t heal
  2. A sore that bleeds
  3. A growth, lump or thickening of the skin or lining of your mouth
  4. Loose teeth
  5. Poorly fitting dentures
  6. Tongue pain
  7. Jaw pain or stiffness
  8. Difficult or painful chewing
  9. Difficult or painful swallowing
  10. Sore throat

Dr Eskander, winner of Best Young dentist 2017, has stressed the importance of early detection of mouth cancer.

She told MailOnline: ‘Oral cancer survival rates are significantly increased if the it’s found early when the cancer is the easier to treat.

‘As dentists, we regularly look for signs of mouth cancer during your regular check ups, but it is also really important for patients to be able to recognise the signs too.

‘Since symptoms manifest in several ways such as unexplained white patches, sore throats, sores that do not heal, it can be overlooked.’

Oral cancer is where a tumour or growth develops inside the mouth, including lips, tongue, gums, inside of the cheeks and roof of the mouth. Other cancers related to the mouth can also occur, including tonsils, salivary glands and throat cancers.

Dr Cantlay, an NHS GP based in London, warns that poor lifestyle choices are responsible for nine out of 10 cases of oral cancer. Poor lifestyle choices are responsible for nine out of 10 cases of oral cancer, the dentists warned.

They said: ‘Oral cancer is more common in people who smoke, drink alcohol and have a poor diet lacking in fruit and vegetables.’ The risk of not eating enough greens is concerning, as statistics show that only a quarter of adults regularly get their five-a-day.

Oral and throat cancer can be caused by HPV caught from oral sex, and years of dangerous tanning and sunbed use can also be a risk for developing skin cancers on the lips.

Dr Cantlay is keen to promote the use of male condoms or dental dams as a way reduce HPV transmission in oral sex and slash any possible risk of cancerous growths in the mouth.

She said: ‘We know from recent surveys that around 75 per cent of 16-44 year olds have heterosexual oral sex.

‘Practicing safe sex and ensuring 12-13-year-old girls have the HPV vaccine is an important step in reducing this risk.’

Their comments were made in time for the annual Mouth Cancer Action Month, which occurs each November.

They added: ‘It is easy to take for granted the importance of our mouths. We use them daily, without much awareness of how integral they are for daily life.

‘Our mouths help us to breathe and to eat, the two foundations of survival.

‘They contain one of the strongest muscles in the body, the masseter, making it possible to chew our food.

‘The tongue allows us to taste and enjoy our food as well as facilitating swallowing.’


1. Avoid tobacco use (chewed or inhaled) – its responsible for 65% of oral cancers.

2. Reduce alcohol consumption. Drinking in excess is responsible for 30% of oral cancers.

3. Eat well. Aim for a varied diet enriched with cancer-fighting foods such as non-startchy fruits and vegetables. Those high in carotenoid (orange, yellow and red fruit and vegetables) and Vitamin C have been proven to reduce oral cancer risk.

4. Enjoy coffee – studies have shown it can reduce the risk of oral cancer.

5. Get to know what’s normal for you. When brushing your teeth, take time to look at your gums, tongue and roof of your mouth.

6. Be sun safe. Wear sunscreen and don’t forget to protect your lips.

7. Practice safe sex. HPV is a very common sexually transmitted infection and can be spread through oral sex. Some high risk strains are associated with cancers of the mouth. Using condoms during oral sex may reduce this risk.

8. Get vaccinated. The HPV vaccine is currently offered on the NHS to 12 and 13-year-old girls. It protects them from cervical, vulval and vaginal cancers and is also likely to prevent oral cancers.

9. Book a dental check up every 6 months. Early detection is key to better outcomes.

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