URGENT action is needed as figures show mouth cancer referrals have fallen by a third since the beginning of the pandemic, a health foundation has warned.

New data collected from seven NHS Trust Hospitals across the UK shows that the number of people being referred for possible mouth cancer fell from 2,257 in the six months prior to March, to 1,506 in the six months since.

Two hospitals in Wales saw a drop of 47 per cent during that time.

The Oral Health Foundation are now calling for urgent action to be taken around cancer diagnosis.

Many mouth cancers are spotted in the early stages by a dentist during a routine check-up.

With coronavirus limiting dental practice activity to 20% of normal activity, the foundation is deeply concerned that many people with early stages of mouth cancer are going undiagnosed.

In the absence of seeing health professionals face-to-face, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation highlights the importance of self-checks at home and knowing how to spot mouth cancer in the early stages.

Dr Carter said: “Regular dental check-ups and GP appointments are the main routes for identifying the early stages of mouth cancer.

“We fear that without access to dental and wider health professionals, that many mouth cancer cases will go undiagnosed.

“A person’s quality of life after being treated for mouth cancer, as well as their chances of beating the disease, is highly dependent on the time of diagnosis.

“By allowing so many potential mouth cancers to go untreated, there is a real danger of more people losing their life to the disease.

“While dental and GP visits remain disrupted it is important that everybody knows how to check themselves for mouth cancer.

“If you notice anything out of the ordinary, contact your dental practice, who will be able to see you as an emergency patient.”


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Mouth cancer can appear on the tongue, tonsils, gums and lips. It can also be found on the roof and floor of the mouth, as well as the head and neck.

Mouth ulcers lasting three weeks, red or white patches in the mouth, or unusual lumps and swellings, are the typically early warning signs. Persistent hoarseness can also be a symptom.

Dr Catherine Rutland, clinical director at Denplan, part of Simplyhealth, said it is crucial that dental practices remain open during the remainder of the pandemic.

Dr Rutland added: “Dentists continue to play a vital role in identifying mouth cancer at routine check-ups.

“However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, access to dentistry was severely curtailed and opportunities to catch mouth cancer early will have been missed. If mouth cancer is spotted early, the chances of a complete cure are good.

“The Foundation’s recent research has revealed that nearly four in 10 people reported encountering an issue and being unable to see or get advice from their dentist because of the current limited access to dentistry caused by the pandemic.

“Keeping practices open from now on is vitally important to help ensure the early detection of mouth cancer. It could save thousands of lives.”