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Health / Early detection of mouth cancer event underway to raise awareness

NHS is urging people to ‘self-check’ due to the shortage of dentists in the isles

AN EVENT on the early detection of mouth cancer is being held at Islesburgh Community Centre today (Wednesday) to raise awareness on the risks, signs and symptoms involved, writes Erin Rizzato Devlin.

This has been organised by NHS Shetland’s public dental service in partnership with Dr Rasha Abu Eid and Dr Katie Hanna, two researchers from the University of Aberdeen Institute of Dentistry who travelled to Shetland to co-host this event.

According to the Mouth Cancer Foundation, one person is lost to mouth cancer every three hours, as mouth cancer affects 650,000 people each year worldwide.

The number of people diagnosed with mouth cancer in the UK during the last 20 years has more than doubled, with a total of 8,864 diagnosed during the last year. The latest figures (2020) show a number of 881 people diagnosed in Scotland.

Due to this increasing incidence, Drs Abu Eid and Hanna gave a presentation during the event showcasing how the Institute of Dentistry is conducting cancer research to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment of mouth cancer.

“There are a lot of things that people don’t realise are actually related to oral cancer, such as UV rays and vaping, as recent evidence has shown that chemicals in vapes have cancerogenic properties related to mouth cancer”, Dr Hanna said.

Dr Abu Eid added: “The oral cavity is so accessible and easy to screen, so it’s very sad that so many patients are diagnosed at a late stage. Early detection is the key: that is the message we are trying to send out.”

The scientists highlighted that they are looking for members of the community to help increase oral cancer awareness through the organisation of public engagement events and awareness materials.

“We are trying to engage the general public with our research,” Dr Abu Eid said.

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“As part of our ongoing project, we have funding to engage members of the public to help us generate material or advise us on how best to increase awareness.”

The event included drop-in screening clinics for members of the public from 10am to 12.30pm in the morning, and these will continue from 2pm to 4.30pm this afternoon.

Alongside these, other resources and information on mouth cancer are made available to participants.

Angela Hopwood, from the NHS Shetland oral health team, said: “Oral cancer screening is usually part of dental checks, but unfortunately we are currently seeing a national shortage of dentists, which is further exacerbated in rural areas. This is why we are stressing the self-checks.

“We had some mouth cancer screening events in November, which were successfully attended just as today. We are conscious that our past events have taken place in Lerwick, but we are keen to reach out to our wider rural communities.”

She added: “One of the things that is surprising to hear in Shetland is that there is a higher number of cancers of the lip, naturally related to UV rays from the sun which are stronger as there is less pollution here.

“As we don’t have the heat of the sun, people don’t tend to think about this, though we have a large population that works outdoors including crofters, fishermen, workers on oil rigs. Oral cancer tends to be prevalent in older males, and it’s those populations we really need to get to.”

Those who are interested in contributing to the project can contact the research team at oral.cancer@abdn.ac.uk and self-screening resources can be found here.

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