A cancer expert fears the city faces a “ticking time bomb” of mouth cancer cases as a result of Covid-19.
Ewan MacKessack-Leitch from Dundee Dental Hospital and trustee of Let’s Talk About Mouth Cancer warned early detection was crucial to increasing patient survival rates.
However, non-availability of dental examinations during the pandemic had fuelled fears that for some people detection could come too late.
Ewan said: “During the Covid-19 pandemic there have been no routine dental appointments, which worries us that there will be a ticking time bomb of undetected mouth cancer cases.
“Dentists play a vital role in early detection, when at routine visits besides checking the teeth, dentists will examine the inside of the mouth to check for changes which might represent a mouth cancer.
“At early stages mouth cancers are painless and may go unnoticed by the patient.
“Without these regular check-ups, there is a risk that early mouth cancers will be missed and will eventually present much later on, when they are harder to treat and where survival/prognosis is poor.”
Despite advances in treatment the five-year survival rate for mouth cancer remains 50%, largely unchanged since the 1970s.
The best way to improve survival rates is to catch the disease at an early stage.
However, in addition to no routine dental care, more people may have indulged in riskier behaviour such as heavy drinking and smoking during the Covid-19 pandemic which can result in more mouth cancer cases.
Ewan added: “It is even more important that the public are aware of what to look out for and seek dental/medical opinion if they are concerned.”
One person who has survived mouth cancer is Barbara Boyd, who talked about her horror after being diagnosed with the disease last year.
Barbara, 62, a retired PE teacher, had one third of her tongue removed at Ninewells Hospital after discovering she had a tumour.
She also had to have 46 lymph nodes removed from her neck to prevent the cancer spreading; an operation she candidly admits terrified her and left her battered and bruised.
Barbara has now made a full recovery and has become a trustee of the Let’s Talk About Mouth Cancer charity in a bid to warn others.
She said: “I have always been prepared to talk about what happened to me to get others to listen.
“What I went through was traumatic and I want to ensure that others get this cancer detected as early as possible.
“It is crucial that people get checked out if they have any concerns at all that they may have some form of mouth cancer.
“After 61 years I had to re-learn to do things that I previously took for granted – like speaking and chewing and eating.
“My treatment has left me looking and sounding different from before. When I was diagnosed I hadn’t even considered cancer.”
Barbara, who lives in Kelty, said: “I was lucky that my mouth cancer was caught early.
It’s crucial that people self examine, especially at this time when Covid has led to not so many people being able to go to the hospital for check-ups.”
Approximately 7,800 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each year in the UK.
Importance of self-examination
Let’s Talk About Mouth Cancer raises awareness of mouth cancer signs and symptoms and promotes mouth self-examination as a means of early detection.
“Mouth self-examination is easy,” said Ewan.
“All that’s needed is a mirror, a bright light and your own two hands to examine the tissues inside your mouth – looking for ulcers, bumps, and red or white patches.
“If any of these are discovered and they do not resolve spontaneously after two weeks, it is strongly advised to seek help from your dentist or doctor.”
The charity also offers professional education to dentists, dental students, medical practitioners and care home workers to show them the signs and symptoms to look out for.
Usually, the charity does workshops and help facilitate a Dundee based public awareness campaign in November every year, but this year that wasn’t possible.
November was also Mouth Cancer Awareness Month, and students and staff from the Dental School raise money for this cause each year.
Ewan said: “A couple of students over the last two years have raised around £1300 for Let’s Talk About Mouth Cancer by selling branded hoodies and sweaters.
“This year, by online means, the students managed to push out the message on mouth cancer prevention and early detection and did some fundraising too. So far they’ve raised £822.25.”