Be Mouthaware

This November NHS Orkney is supporting Mouth Cancer Action Month.  Every year this national campaign headlines their efforts with “Be Mouthaware”.  As the incidence of mouth cancer continues to rise across the UK, with rates highest in Scotland, this campaign is a plea to everyone to be Mouthaware.  Look out for any red or white patched, long-lasting ulcers and any unusual lumps and swelling in your mouth, lips, throat and neck.  Get anything you are concerned about at all checked out.  The earlier mouth cancer is detected the better.

mouth cancer

The reality of cancer can be devastating, so being aware of any early sign is essential.

Lorraine Shearer, from Tankerness has spoken openly over the past year about her experience of cancer and the impact on her and her family. Lorraine told us about the symptoms that she had suffered in the lead up to her mouth cancer diagnosis.

“I was not a regular dental attendee- I used the service as and when I needed it, like so many others. Not so now!

“I  was 45 when my life turned upside down with a cancer diagnosis. It was present in my soft palette, tonsil, throat and had spread to the lymph nodes in my neck. An aggressive form but treatable and, vitally, curable.

“Now looking back, there were symptoms, I just didn’t realise it at the time.

“Those specific to me included liquid and some foods coming out of my nose – not all the time but the frequency did increase the closer I got to diagnosis. This, I assume, was as a result of the cancer eating away at part of my soft palette.  At the time, I just brushed it off and put it down to swallowing at an odd angle or drinking too quickly.

 “I also noticed a slight change in my speech. No one else did as I remember asking. But certain letters just didn’t sound right to me in my head as I said them….particularly “D”. Again, I imagine this was because of the soft palette area.

“I did eventually feel a small lump on my neck, just below my right ear.

“The most obvious sign was visual. Unfortunately, even dental experts had not seen it before so were unaware but it is something that you can be aware of now.

“The uvula (the dangly but at the back of my throat) was not hanging straight down as normal but had curled around and looked like it was almost touching my tonsil (it looked like a small hook). While the dentists and consultants were baffled by this, I believe it may have been as a result of the cancer, so it’s certainly something to look out for.”

Lorraine’s experience clearly shows the importance of being Mouthaware. We are very thankful for Lorraine for speaking so openly about her experience.

Karyn Tait, NHS Orkney Oral Health Team Lead commented:

“We know that mouth cancer can affect anyone so we cannot say it often enough or loud enough – Be Mouthaware and get any changes in your mouth checked out by a doctor or dentist.”

Nigel Pendrey, NHS Orkney Senior Dental Officer added:

““No-one will think you are wasting their time if you want to get an area of concern in your mouth checked.  Early detection is absolutely the key so if you are concerned please get checked out.”

In Lorraine’s words, “It is certainly so important to keep a close eye on your mouth health and have regular checkups. It could just save your life!.”

If you would like to have more information about mouth cancer, the risks, signs and symptoms, please see the British Dental Health foundation website at

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