Text to combat mouth cancer

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Research shows that text message reminders can be effective in combating mouth cancer

New research has shown that regular text message reminders can be an effective way of combating mouth cancer.

The study, which involved healthcare authorities sending a text message to patients encouraging them to check for the symptoms of mouth cancer, significantly improved how often patients examined themselves for early warning signs of the disease [1].

Researchers also found the patients who discovered something unusual then went to a doctor or dentist where, in most cases, their findings were confirmed and diagnosed. In the United Kingdom, there are now more than 7,800 mouth cancers diagnosed a year, with cases increasing by more than a third in the last decade alone.

Dr Nigel Carter, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, feels text messages could play an important role in improving awareness and early diagnosis of mouth cancer. He explained: "So far, this has only been trialled on existing mouth cancer patients to keep them alert to any reoccurrences. I have no doubts that text messages can have a much wider application to alert those most at risk to check themselves regularly for the early signs of mouth cancer.

"Something as simple and effective as a text message could be a quick and inexpensive way for oral health authorities to identify mouth cancer at an earlier stage. The number of people diagnosed with mouth cancer may have risen sharply, but the proportion of those beating the disease has barely improved over the last 40 years. More often than not, this is due to late diagnosis."

Mouth cancer can occur on the lips, cheeks, tongue, roof and floor of the mouth, head and neck. The early warning signs of mouth cancer can be a non-healing mouth ulcer, red or white patches and unusual lumps and swellings.

Dr Carter continued: "During your regularly check-up, the dentist will visually examine you for mouth cancer. However, as the majority of us only see them every two years, it is important to be alert to any unusual changes in between these visits.”

He concluded: "By regularly looking for unusual changes to the mouth, you can give yourself the best chance possible to beat the disease and live a normal life."

1. Malik, A., Vaishampayan, S., Pawar, P., Arya, K. and Chaturvedi, P. (2017). Short message service prompted mouth self-examination in oral cancer patients as an alternative to frequent hospital-based surveillance. South Asian Journal of Cancer, 6(4), p.161.