Health Minister Robin Swann has given his backing to Mouth Cancer Awareness Month by urging people to check for signs of the disease.
Visiting Dunmurry Dental Practice in South Belfast, the Minister praised the vital work of dental professionals in checking for signs and symptoms of mouth cancer.
Mr Swann said: "Mouth cancer is a serious and debilitating disease that can devastate lives and prematurely end them. Dental professionals are in a prime position to raise awareness of mouth cancer and to educate the public about this devastating condition. We all need to be 'mouth aware.
"I am pleased to have the opportunity to hear about the important role dentists perform in tackling mouth cancer and in supporting many people having treatment for cancer. It is encouraging that the recently published Northern Ireland Cancer Strategy consultation has stressed the importance of regular dental check-ups and recommends raising public awareness of the risk factors and early signs of mouth cancer."
Mouth Cancer Action Month is a charity campaign organised by the Oral Health Foundation. Over the last year, 8,337 people in the UK were given the life-changing news that they have mouth cancer. These numbers continue to rise while the disease claims more lives than cervical and testicular cancer combined. Over the 25 year period from 1993 to 2018, the number of people diagnosed with oral cancer in Northern Ireland increased by more than 80% to 290. Like many other cancers, the risk of developing oral cancer is significantly greater among those from deprived communities.
Northern Ireland's Chief Dental Officer Caroline Lappin said: "The NI Cancer Strategy highlighted that the majority of oral cancers in Northern Ireland are diagnosed at stage four, which has a significant impact on survival. The five year survival rate for oral cancer in Northern Ireland is approximately 45% overall.
"Although risk factors, such as smoking, excess alcohol, infection with the HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) and poor diet are responsible for many mouth cancers, it is a disease that can affect anyone. That is why it is so important we all know what to look out for: don't leave a mouth ulcer unattended for more than three weeks; don't ignore any unusual lumps or swellings or red and white patches in your mouth and regularly check your own mouth, lips, cheeks, head and neck for anything out of the ordinary. The more we know about mouth cancer, the better chance we have of beating it."
Further information on the signs and symptoms of mouth cancer can be found online www.dentalhealth.org/mouth-cancer