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World Head and Neck Cancer Day 2023

20 July 2023

Mouth Cancer

The Dental Health Foundation is supporting World Head and Neck Cancer Day, taking place today, the 27th July 2023.

It is an opportunity to raise awareness about head and neck cancer in the general public. Mouth Head and Neck Cancer (MHNC) is one of the less well-known cancers but there are over 700 cases every year in Ireland, with the number of people diagnosed with it set to increase in the next 25 years. It is the sixth most common cancer in men worldwide, but it also affects women and younger people. 

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of mouth, head and neck cancer can include:

  • A sore or ulcer in the mouth that does not heal.
  • White or red patches inside the mouth.
  • A lump in the mouth or neck.
  • Thickening or hardening of the cheek or tongue.
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing or moving the tongue.
  • A persistant sore throat and hoarseness.
  • Persistent nosebleeds and a stuffy nose.
  • Unexplained loose teeth.

Visit your Doctor if you have any of the above symptoms for more than 3 weeks. 

What are the risk factors? The cause of mouth, head and neck cancer is not always known but your risk is greater if you:

  • Smoke cigarettes, cigars, pipes or marijuana.
  • Chew smokeless tobacco, paan, gutkha and quid.
  • Drink alcohol and products containing alcohol.
  • Are exposed to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). HPV has been linked to cancer in the tonsil and throat area.
  • Are overexposed to the sun. This increases your risk of lip cancer.

Unfortunately, in Ireland, alcohol plays a role in up to half of the cases of MHNC. If you have 2 or more standard drinks a day you are 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with these cancers compared with those who do not drink. If you smoke and drink the risk is even greater; up to 35 times more likely. This is because tobacco and alcohol work together to cause much more damage.

It is not just a problem for ‘heavy’ drinkers. There is no completely safe level of drinking so drink less to reduce the risk.

  1. Stay within the weekly guidelines for low-risk drinking:
  • 17 standard drinks for men
  • 11 standard drinks for women
  • 1 standard drink equals:

Half pint of beer/stout/ale

Single measure of spirits

Small glass of wine (100ml)

  1. Avoid drinking 6 standard drinks (3 pints) on any one drinking occasion.
  2. There are lots of tips and tools to help you achieve this on and check for help to stop smoking.


Key to the prevention of oral cancer is to give up tobacco usage and adopt a sensible approach to the consumption of alcohol. It is estimated that at least three-quarters of oral cancers could be prevented by eliminating tobacco smoking and reducing alcohol consumption.

Use a lip balm that contains sun block.

healthy diet with at least five servings of fresh fruit and vegetables may also reduce the risk of oral cancer. 

Check your mouth regularly for changes, for example, when brushing your teeth.

Visit your dentist regularly, even if you have no teeth and wear dentures.

Oral cancer detected early has an extremely good prognosis (approx. 90% five-year survival rate). Despite this, the survival rate in Ireland is quite low (<50%) as 60% of cases present at an already advanced stage.