Bad breath? The ‘persistent’ and ‘odd’ signs which may signal cancer – what to look for

Bad breath? The ‘persistent’ and ‘odd’ signs which may signal cancer – what to look for

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The Mouth Cancer Foundation says that the majority of deaths from mouth cancer occur because of late detection, “due to a low public awareness of the signs, symptoms, and risks”. It explains that self-checks for mouth cancer take just two minutes and “could save your life, or someone you know”.

Around 8,300 people are diagnosed with mouth cancer each year in the UK, which is about one in every 50 cancers diagnosed, according to the NHS.

Mouth cancer is the general term given to the variety of malignant tumours that develop in the mouth, according to The Mouth Cancer Foundation.

The charity recommends that everyone over the age of 16 has a professional examination for early signs of mouth cancer, once a year, at their dentist.

Cancer Research UK says that if you go to see your GP, they will ask you about your symptoms and they might examine you. They may arrange tests or a referral to a specialist.

The organisation notes there are many conditions that cause mouth cancer symptoms, most of which are much more common than mouth and oropharyngeal cancer. Nonetheless, it is important to get these symptoms checked by a doctor.

One of the signs is bad breath. It explains: “Most people have bad breath at some point in their life and it is not cancer. But if you have cancer, bad breath might be worse and happen more often.”

The Oral Health Foundation says: “Bad breath is a very common problem and there are many different causes. Persistent bad breath is usually caused by the smelly gases released by the bacteria that coat your teeth, gums and tongue.”

It adds: “Other medical conditions that cause bad breath include infections in the throat, nose or lungs; sinusitis; bronchitis; diabetes; or liver or kidney problems. If your dentist finds that your mouth is healthy, you may be referred to your family GP or a specialist to find out the cause of your bad breath.”

The NHS says other symptoms of mouth cancer include:

  • Mouth ulcers that are painful and do not heal within several weeks
  • Unexplained, persistent lumps in the mouth or the neck that do not go away
  • Unexplained loose teeth or sockets that do not heal after extractions
  • Unexplained, persistent numbness or an odd feeling on the lip or tongue
  • Sometimes, white or red patches on the lining of the mouth or tongue These can be early signs of cancer, so they should also be checked
  • Changes in speech, such as a lisp.

The NHS says if mouth cancer is diagnosed early, a complete cure is often possible in up to nine in 10 cases using surgery alone.

If the cancer is larger, there’s still a good chance of a cure, but surgery should be followed by radiotherapy or a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

“Overall, around six in 10 people with mouth cancer will live for at least five years after their diagnosis, and many will live much longer without the cancer returning,” says the health body.

You are at increased risk of developing mouth cancer if you smoke or are using tobacco in other ways, such as chewing tobacco. As well as smoking there are several other risk factors.

The Mouth Cancer Foundation says these include drinking alcohol to excess, which can increase risks fourfold, and having HPV.

The charity warns: “The majority of deaths from mouth cancer occur because of late detection, due to a low public awareness of the signs, symptoms, and risks”, hence the importance of quick self-checks for mouth cancer.

The NHS says: “Men are more likely to get mouth cancer than women. This may be because, on average, men tend to drink more alcohol than women.”

The NHS recommends you drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week. If you drink as much as 14 units a week, it’s best to spread it evenly over three or more days.

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