A south Belfast woman who recently lost her father to mouth cancer has said early detection is key to beating the illness.
Margaret Newell (43) was speaking out as part of Mouth Cancer Awareness Week (November 14 - 20), being run by Action Cancer Northern Ireland. The Dunmurry woman lost her father, George Flannigan (76), this summer.
Emily Magrath, Action Cancer Health Promotion Manager, said: “Mouth cancer is twice as prevalent in men as in women, though an increasing number of women are being diagnosed with the disease. Research suggests this is due to increased uptake in smoking among young females.”
She said many cases of the disease could be prevented by a change in lifestyle. “Tobacco is considered to be the main cause of mouth cancer, with three in four cases being linked to smoking. Drinking in excess is also a known factor, with those who both smoke and drink to excess being 30 times more likely to develop the condition. Other risk factors also include a poor diet.”
Margaret Newell explained: “My Dad was a heavy smoker — he had been for many years — and had been complaining of a sore mouth for quite some time.
“He wore both top and bottom dentures and one Sunday when he came to my house for lunch I noticed he wasn’t wearing his bottom set. He told me his gum was sore. I advised him to go to the dentist to have it checked out, but being a man of his generation, he didn’t go.”
On Christmas day 2008 George came down with a bad flu. Eventually he got over it but still wasn’t feeling well and in June 2009, he visited his GP.
The doctor faxed a letter to the School Of Dentistry, such was his concern.
At the same visit his GP took a sample of blood which was immediately sent to the Belfast City Hospital for analysis.
The tests indicated he had a rare form of mouth cancer.
“We were advised to return the next Friday for the results of the biopsy,” says Margaret. “My dad was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma. He was then referred to a plastic surgeon to remove part of the tumour at the start of July.”
By July 4 George was in the Royal Victoria Hospital with multiple organ failure and septicemia. Shortly after that time, he lost his leg due to poor circulation. He died on June 21 of this year.
“Early detection of mouth cancer is imperative,” Margaret said. “The disease is very often preventable and by regularly visiting your dentist. Please do not ignore any symptoms — always get them checked out.”
Mouth cancer is one of the most accessible cancers for examination and monitoring, but it is the UK’s fastest growing cancer with about 5000 new cases being diagnosed annually.
Initial symptoms include: one or more mouth ulcers that do not heal; red or white patches on the lining of your mouth or tongue; and any unusual lumps or swelling in the mouth.