Mouth cancer - a patients perspective

When a patch on her tongue turned out to be mouth cancer, Andrea Fearon, 46, tells why she owes so much to her dentist.

As a Denplan patient at Dr Robert Rutland’s dental practice in Berkshire, former florist Andrea always visited regularly for routine dental check-ups – something that probably saved her life. When a white patch on her tongue was spotted during one of these routine visits in 2009, Robert referred her for a biopsy. 

At that stage, the biopsy showed the patch to be a benign leukoplakia, which is usually harmless but is linked to an increased risk of mouth cancer. Andrea was closely monitored both by her dentist and the hospital and, after observing changes to it after a few years, Robert referred her for a second biopsy which confirmed mouth cancer shortly afterwards in January 2014.

“As a mum of two, it was quite frightening to be told that news,” says Andrea. “I’d heard of the term ‘mouth cancer’ but had not registered what it really involved or that you could get it on your tongue. I didn’t really have any of the typical risk factors in my lifestyle either; I had smoked many years ago but had quit a long time before, which highlights that mouth cancer can affect anyone.”

The discovery of Andrea’s mouth cancer may have saved her life in another way too.

“During some of my scans, a second cancer was discovered in my lung,” says Andrea. “This was completely unrelated to the mouth cancer and would not have been found so early if it had not been for the mouth cancer.”

Andrea underwent successful surgery to remove part of her tongue and reconstruct it using tissue from her arm. Six weeks later, she had further surgery to remove the cancer from her lung. Because both her cancers were caught at a very early stage, she only had to have surgery to remove the cancer and did not require chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

“I feel very lucky to have had such a successful outcome, and to have someone as knowledgeable and thorough as my dentist,” says Andrea. “It may be a cliché, but the truth is that without Robert’s expertise at recognising mouth cancer I might not be here. As it is, I’ve made a full recovery and Robert and his team have been a fantastic source of support and reassurance every step of the way.”


A routine dental visit may have saved Andrea's life.

Already aware of the importance of regular visits to the dentist as a Denplan patient, Andrea’s mouth cancer experience further convinced her of the vital role a dentist has, not only with regard to the health and appearance of patients’ teeth, but of their whole mouth.

“I’ve always found it reassuring that Robert is so meticulous with check-ups and doesn’t rush through them. A mouth cancer check isn’t painful or uncomfortable and it’s a very valuable service that I think dentists should promote more openly. It surprises me when people tell me they don’t bother going to a dentist unless they’re in pain. If they realised that the dentist is looking out for their future health they might be more inclined to visit regularly and more lives could be saved as a result.”

Get involved in Mouth Cancer Action Month

As Andrea’s story highlights, being aware of mouth cancer and taking action early is very important. That’s why we are once again sponsoring Mouth Cancer Action Month to raise awareness of the disease, risks and symptoms. 

You can also show your support and raise awareness by taking part in our Blue Lip Selfie campaign.

Published: November 12th, 2015

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