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Screening for mouth cancer

Men and women discussing mouth cancer

This page is about the current situation in the UK regarding screening for mouth and oropharyngeal cancer. There is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Screening for mouth cancer

Screening means testing people for early signs of cancer before they have any symptoms.

There is no national screening programme in the UK for mouth or oropharyngeal cancer, because these cancers are relatively uncommon.

You can do a couple of things to make sure early signs are spotted

  • Have regular dental check ups, at least yearly – even if you have false teeth
  • Check inside your mouth with a small mirror for any changes or suspicious signs

Dentists play an important role in picking up early mouth cancers. Many dentists do routinely check for mouth or oropharyngeal cancer. So they are often the first to spot these cancers in their patients. You need to report any changes that you or your dentist find to your GP. This is important if you smoke and even more important if you also drink alcohol.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the About mouth cancer section.

 

 

Cancer screening

Screening means testing people for early signs of cancer before they have any symptoms. To be able to carry out screening, doctors need to have an effective and accurate screening test. The test must be reliable at picking up cancers that are there. And it must not give false positive results in people who do not have cancer.

 

The current situation for mouth and oropharyngeal cancer

There is no national screening programme in the UK for mouth or oropharyngeal cancer because these cancers are relatively uncommon. With uncommon diseases, it is most cost effective to screen people who have an increased risk of developing them. But first we must be sure we know who is at higher risk of mouth cancer. People who both smoke and drink heavily are at higher risk of mouth and throat cancers.

In 2013 the Cochrane Library carried out a review of studies that looked into screening programmes for mouth cancer. It stated that we do not currently have evidence to show that a screening programme for mouth cancer can help to pick up mouth cancers earlier. We need more research to find this out.

 

What you can do

You can do a couple of things to find early signs of mouth cancer.

Many dentists routinely check for mouth or oropharyngeal cancer. So they are often the first to spot these cancers in their patients. If the dentist suspects a cancer they can refer you to the hospital to see a specialist. 

You need to report any changes that you find to your GP or dentist. This is especially important if you smoke and drink heavily.

There are UK guidelines for GPs and dentists that advise them when they need to refer people to a specialist in mouth cancer.

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Updated: 2 October 2014