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Know the signs of mouth cancer

Tower Hamlets Council is launching a campaign to raise awareness of the causes of mouth cancer during the month of November, for Mouth Cancer Action Month.

Health advisers will be providing advice and support in English, Bengali and Somali across the borough.

Early detection of mouth cancer is crucial to improve the chances of successful treatment and survival as over two thirds of cases are detected at a late stage.

In Tower Hamlets, the BME Stop Tobacco Project supports people in quitting chewing tobacco, cigarettes and shisha. It helped local resident Shafia Islam, 66, to beat a 30-year addiction to Pan Masala.

Shafia Islam said:  

“I used to chew paan about 3-4 times a day as it is a cultural norm within the Bangladeshi community. My GP and dentist noticed changes in my mouth including reoccurring gingivitis and gum disease and explained if I continued, it could lead to mouth cancer.

“They recommended the BME Stop Tobacco Project which I felt comfortable going to as they spoke in Bengali. They told me everything that the health professionals had said, in a language I understood. I met other women who were going through the same thing so it was encouraging to quit together.

“The advisors at the service were so supportive and flexible and would even do home visits. It’s taken me awhile to fully quit but I can contact them at any time if I get tempted.

“Other women have commented on how clear my teeth are now so it motivates me not to chew again. I encourage them to see the advisers because if I can do it, they can do it!”

Mouth cancer can affect anyone but those who use tobacco (smoking, chewing and smoking shisha) and drink alcohol are up to 75 per cent more at risk.

The signs not to ignore include:

• an ulcer that does not heal within three weeks
• white or red patches in the mouth that cannot be wiped away
• a lump in any part of your mouth, head and neck area
• numbness of the tongue or mouth
• difficulty in swallowing
• a feeling that something is stuck in your throat
• unexplained wobbly teeth
• an unexpected change in your voice.

Smokeless tobacco, (chewing tobacco) is dried tobacco leaf used in Paan Masala, gutka and other preparations combined with betel nut and spices used by South Asian Communities.

Recent reports suggest that about 1 in 5 Bangladeshi women are regular users of chewing tobacco in paan. In Tower Hamlets 50 per cent of women chew tobacco in paan.

According to the WHO betel nut on its own can also cause cancer.¹

Chewing khat is prevalent amongst Somali, Yemeni and Ethiopian communities. Research has also indicated that frequent use of khat – a leafy green plant containing two main stimulants (cathine and cathinone) – is a high risk factor for oral cancer. 

Shisha is just as harmful as cigarettes and smokers are at risk of the same kinds of diseases as cigarette smokers, such as heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease.

One of the main causes of mouth cancer along with tobacco use is alcohol.  New guidelines advise both men and women not to drink more than 14 units of alcohol in a week. 

Dr Somen Banerjee, Director of Public Health at Tower Hamlets Council said:

“The risk of mouth cancer could be significantly reduced by stopping tobacco use, reducing alcohol consumption and eating a balanced diet with fruits and vegetables.

“We are urging residents to be aware of these signs if they see or feel anything unusual as early diagnosis is so important for successful treatment. You can always speak to your dentist or GP.”

The campaign will officially launch on 4 November at the East London Mosque, where the Imam will raise awareness during the Friday prayer.

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