Mouth Cancer Action Month
Mouth Cancer Action Month

NHS Shetland Public Dental Service is aiming to raise awareness and encourage everyone aged 16 and over in Shetland to be Mouth Aware.

Mouth cancer cases are on the increase in the UK with over 8,800 new cases diagnosed in the UK alone last year. For reasons not yet fully understood, mouth cancer is on the increase, with the incidence rising by 49% over the past 10 years making it the eighth most common malignancy.

Unfortunately, often due to late diagnosis, the five-year survival rate of approximately 50% has not improved over the last few decades. For this reason, mouth cancer campaigners are encouraging everyone to carry out regular self-checks at home, for any of the signs or symptoms of mouth cancer.

Angela Hopwood, Oral Health Improvement Nurse said: “We are asking people in Shetland to be #MouthAware. Using this hashtag on social media will also provide further information about preventing mouth cancer. Carrying out a 45-second check of your mouth just once a month can greatly reduce the risks of late diagnosis. All you need is a bathroom mirror and a decent light source.

“Mouth cancer, although not always, is often linked to lifestyle factors. These include tobacco use, and excessive drinking of alcohol which combined with smoking can increase the risk by up to 30 times. The full reason for this is not fully understood however it appears that alcohol increases the rate at which nicotine is absorbed into the oral soft tissues. Poor diets low in fresh fruit and vegetables are also a concern as is the HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) which is transmitted through oral sex. Excessive sunlight is also a factor in cancers of the lip, especially for those who spend time outdoors like builders or crofters.

“To reduce your risk of mouth cancer, we encourage everyone to drink within recommended limits, if you smoke, stop (contact Quit Your Way at Healthy Shetland on 01595 807494 for support), eat a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, practice safer sex and wear lip salve with an SPF of at least 20 when spending extended periods outdoors.

“Traditionally mouth cancer has been most common in men over the age of 55, however, we are now seeing cases in much younger adults of both sexes, so it is vital that everyone is aware of any unusual changes within their mouths. Get to know your mouth, find out what is “normal” for you and for anything unusual or of concern, please see your GP or a dentist urgently.

“What you should be looking for are any non-healing mouth ulcers that last longer than two to three weeks, red or white patches in the mouth or throat, any lumps, bumps or swellings or unexplained pain or discomfort or difficulty eating, speaking or swallowing. Often these may be nothing to worry about, but it is always best to get them examined. No doctor or dentist is going to think that you are wasting their time so ‘If in doubt, get checked out’.”                                                                                                                  

To support this year’s campaign, the Public Dental Service is also offering two free mouth cancer screening sessions for anyone with concerns, whether they are registered with a dentist or not.

These are:

Tuesday 7 November, from 6pm-8pm at the Dental Suite (Outpatients Dept), Gilbert Bain Hospital, Lerwick


Thursday 23 November, from 2pm-4pm at the Gilbertson Park Games Hall, Lerwick.

These sessions are free and open to all so please come along, there is no need to book! 

To find out more information about mouth cancer and Mouth Cancer Action Month, please visit or


Every November, the Oral Health Foundation organises and runs Mouth Cancer Action Month, under the message ‘If in doubt, get checked out’. Our campaign has become an influential springboard in educating the public about mouth cancer, highlighting the risks, symptoms and causes of the disease.The campaign is about taking action and raising awareness, particularly among those groups who are most at risk. We want people to look out for ulcers that do not heal within three weeks, are red and white patches in the mouth, and have unusual lumps or swellings while encouraging them to carry out regular self-checks for signs of mouth cancer.

By working closely with dental and health professionals and supporting them in their activities with patients and local communities, we continue to increase mouth cancer awareness and save lives through early detection.

Mouth Cancer Action Month is also supported by the Mouth Cancer Foundation.

For further information, please visit

Published: Wednesday, 1st November 2023