Mouth Cancer Awareness

Mouth, Head & Neck Cancer Awareness Ireland (MHNCAI) Group was founded in 2009 to promote awareness in Ireland. The group was initiated primarily by people who had recovered from cancer, and was supported by the Dental Health Foundation, and the University Dental Schools in Dublin and Cork as founding members, followed by membership of the Irish Cancer Society. The Irish Dental Association became a partner in 2011 to increase professional awareness and to highlight the importance of attending the dentist for a mouth cancer examination.

Mouth Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Ireland (MHNCAI) is a voluntary, unfunded, community focused group. Current membership

  • MHN Cancer Survivors
  • Irish Cancer Society
  • Dental Health Foundation
  • Cork University Dental School and Hospital
  • Dublin Dental University Hospital
  • Irish Dental Association
  • National Cancer Control Programme HSE

Mouth Cancer Awareness Day (MCAD) was established by MHNCAI. The first MCAD was held at Dublin Dental University Hospital (DDUH) and Cork University Dental School & Hospital (CUDSH) in September 2010 and has continued with the 9th MCAD held in September 2016. The Mission of MHNCAI is to work collaboratively to promote public and professional awareness of Mouth Head and Neck Cancer stressing the importance of early detection and referral. Worryingly, many people are still unaware of the existence of mouth cancer as a disease which is on the increase affecting men and women of all ages and not in  ‘at risk’ categories such as smokers and heavy drinkers.

Currently, the majority of MHNC patients are diagnosed late resulting in poor survival rates and immense suffering. Changes must be put in place that will help to diagnose Mouth Head and Neck cancer earlier and give fair and equitable access to standardised care delivered by multi-disciplinary teams, including oral supportive care, rehabilitation and specialised dental care. With this in mind, MHNCAI was established to:

  • promote public and professional awareness of Mouth Head & Neck Cancer
  • highlight modifiable risk factors to promote disease prevention
  • promote early detection to improve potential outcomes
  • improve patient pathway before, during and following cancer treatment
  • improve quality of life for Mouth, Head & Neck Cancer survivors
  • promote increased co-operation between doctors, dentists, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals to improve the rate of early detection of MHNC

What is Mouth Head and Neck Cancer?

Mouth Head and Neck Cancer (MHNC) refers to cancers found in tissues of the mouth, head and neck. Over 700 cases of MHNC are diagnosed in Ireland every year. It mainly affects older people although more young people are being diagnosed now.  These cancers are more common in men than in women. However, MHNC rates have been rising both in Ireland and in most EU countries. In contrast with other forms of cancer, MHNC survival rates have shown little improvement over the last 20 years. Many patients continue to present with advanced stage disease. As a result, only about 50% of patients diagnosed with this cancer can expect to be alive after 5 years and many will die within the first 18 months. This is why it is so important to make people aware of the risk factors and early signs of MHNC to reduce the burden of this disease for the Irish population (Mouth Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Ireland, 2018)

Smoking and alcohol are the main risk factors for Mouth Head and Neck Cancer. However exposure to the Human Papilloma Virus, HPV 16, can also be associated with mouth head and neck cancer.

Since 2010 first year post-primary girls are offered HPV vaccination as part of the national vaccination programme to prevent cervical cancer. In at-risk populations, this vaccine can reduce the risk of HPV associated malignancies, which include most cervical cancers as well as some vaginal, vulval, oropharyngeal, anal and rectal cancers.

The Dental Health Foundation supports the extension of the  HPV immunisation programme to include boys (rolled out in September 2019) in order to reduce HPV-related disease in males and females in Ireland, improving patient-related outcomes and reducing mortality from HPV-related cancers.