The C word: how to get involved and spread the word

November is Mouth Cancer Action Month. Here’s everything you need to know on how to get involved and spread the word about a life-threatening disease that’s on the rise


According to the Oral Health Foundation, organisers of Mouth Cancer Action Month, more than 7,500 people are diagnosed with mouth cancer every year in the UK. What’s more, around seven people in the UK lose their life to the disease every day. Mouth Cancer Action Month is a charity campaign that aims to get more mouth cancers diagnosed at an early stage by raising awareness of the risk factors as well as signs and symptoms, while also encouraging people to discuss them with their dental professional. The hope is that, by working together to engage and educate members of the public and promoting healthy lifestyles, the incidence of mouth cancer can be reduced and the general health and well being of millions of people across the UK can be improved.


Help needed

This November, the Oral Health Foundation is asking for your help. The charity is looking for dental professionals to reach out to patients and their local communities to spread the message of mouth cancer; cases of which are rapidly increasing. Through the Mouth Cancer Action Month campaign, dental professionals are being encouraged to promote the benefits of good oral health for our overall health to patients and spread the message that treatment is more likely to be successful the earlier mouth cancer is picked up. Despite having an increasing incidence rate, mouth cancer awareness is worryingly low in the UK. The main message of Mouth Cancer Action Month is: ‘If in doubt, get checked out’.


Show your support

There are a number of ways to make a difference during Mouth Cancer Action Month, and most of them are very easy. Here are a handful of ideas on how you can show your support.


Speak up

With two in every three patients unaware that a visual mouth cancer examination is part of the standard check-up, the first and foremost thing to do is to talk about mouth cancer. This is the only way we can start to increase awareness of mouth cancer. You could even use Mouth Cancer Action Month as an ice breaker to start discussions with patients.


Get social

Social media is one of the best places to start when it comes to raising awareness. The Blue Lip Selfie campaign returns this year, and has already seen dental professionals getting involved. To take part in the campaign, simply wear blue lips and take a picture of your perfect pout (use #bluelipselfie when posting on social media). On 16 November, dental professionals are being encouraged to partake in Blue Wednesday and don something blue – be it socks, hair bands or lipstick – and visit social media using the hashtag #mouthcanceraction.


Blue ribbon

The Oral Health Foundation provides high quality information and oral health educational products to health professionals across the UK. To support Mouth Cancer Action Month, resources including blue ribbon pin badges, coasters, pens and posters are available. Visit the website at for more details.


how to get involved and spread the word for Mouth Cancer Action Month


In and out

Why not open your practice doors and offer patients and local groups free oral health checks and mouth cancer examinations? Remember to display posters and leaflets in the practice. Or, if you’d like to get out of the practice, why not venture to a local village parish group, homeless shelter or workplace to offer your expertise there? Discuss the importance of maintaining good oral health and hygiene as well as raising the awareness of mouth cancer. You could even do on-site mobile oral health checks.


Fun fundraising

To be able to continue with its charitable work, Mouth Cancer Action Month relies on its supporters to raise money. Fundraising can raise awareness of oral health and mouth cancer in a fun way, while also helping to support Mouth Cancer Action Month financially. There are lots of exciting ideas to raise money and awareness – from fancy dress days and quiz nights to cake mornings and midnight strolls.


Love letters

Getting information across to patients is always difficult when chair time is so limited in the surgery. However, you could send a letter to existing patients informing them of the risks of mouth cancer. The letter could include information such as:

  • Who is at risk
  • Why they should be aware of ulcers or red and white patches and swellings
  • The importance of oral health checks and examinations.

While the ideal would be to send this letter to all patients, if resources are stretched then you could target higher-risk groups, such as smokers. Coupling this letter with the offer of a free examination can be very effective.


Added extras

There are additional activities that the Oral Health Foundation is encouraging dental professionals to embrace during Mouth Cancer Action Month. One of the quickest and easiest ways of getting information across to patients is to set up a display using posters, banners and leaflets in the practice’s waiting room. However, why stop at the practice? To spread the oral cancer message even further, reach out to sports centres, community centres, universities and colleges – the world really is your oyster! To help support the foundation shape the direction and decision-making of certain issues, policies or laws, it asks that you write to your local MP. By lobbying your local MP, you can help influence policy on all matters pertaining to mouth cancer. Template letters for extending the HPV vaccination for boys, for example, are available via the website.



All together now

So, whether you are looking to get involved in Mouth Cancer Action Month or would just like to learn more about the campaign, visit the website ( to pledge your support and receive your free Mouth Cancer Action Month 2016 registration pack. This month, take that extra step and do something special for Mouth Cancer Action Month.


What to look out for

Mouth cancer can strike in a number of places, including the lips, tongue, gums and cheeks and it’s vital to tell patients, staff and those within your local community what to look out for. Three signs and symptoms not to ignore are:

  • Ulcers that do not heal in weeks
  • Red and white patches in the mouth
  • Unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth or head and neck area.

It is important that everyone regularly checks for any changes in their mouth. If any of these are spotted, a dentist or doctor should be seen immediately.


Oral cancer in numbers


Mouth Cancer Action Month

Organised by the Oral Health Foundation, Mouth Cancer Action Month aims to reduce the amount of lives claimed by the disease and make a difference by promoting the importance of early detection and prevention. Visit to find out how you get involved in this year’s campaign. One in 10 people have never heard of mouth cancer In the UK, one person is told they have mouth cancer every 77 minutes Mouth cancer claims more lives than testicular and cervical cancer combined Mouth cancer takes more lives every year than road traffic accidents on Britain’s roads Mouth cancer is diagnosed in more than twice as many men than women but there are more cases in women than ever Cases of mouth cancer have increased by a third in the last decade alone Survival rates based on a late diagnosis are as little as 50% but chances of survival drastically increase with an early diagnosis to 90% Scotland has more cases per capita than in England, Northern Ireland or Wales Mouth cancer is one of very few cancers that incidences are actually predicted to increase in the future Smoking is the leading cause of mouth cancer but HPV is predicted to overtake it as the leading cause of mouth cancer in the next decade Extending the HPV vaccine to include boys of a school age could save thousands of lives Excessive use of alcohol is linked to more than a third of mouth cancer cases in men and a fifth in women Heavy drinkers and smokers are up to 35 times more at risk Mouth cancer can affect anyone – it has no regard for age, gender, race or class As part of every check-up, dentists are required to carry out a visual examination to look for the early signs of mouth cancer.




Dr Philip Lewis: The first GDP promoting early detection of oral cancer >

promoting early detection of oral cancer



*This was originally published in Oral Health magazine