‘I bit my tongue and felt a small lump – I was only 23 and it was mouth cancer’

Oral cancer is more common in the over 50s, so when Laura Taylor was told she was too young to have it she took a course of antibiotics believing she had a mouth infection...

mouth cancer

Oral cancer is more common in the over 50s, so when Laura Taylor was told she was too young to have it she took a course of antibiotics believing she had a mouth infection...

I was eating a bowl of cereal on a regular weekday morning when I discovered the lump. I thought I’d bitten my tongue, but when I went and checked in the mirror I noticed a bump underneath it. I hadn’t experienced any pain, my mouth didn’t feel any different and my taste was the same, so what was it? If you had told me it was mouth cancer, I wouldn't have believed you.

I booked a doctor’s appointment to check it out, but was quickly dismissed as someone suffering from a mouth infection. I was given antibiotics and a mouthwash to take for seven days, but in the back of my mind I wasn’t convinced this was the answer. I booked another doctor’s appointment, but again was told to give the antibiotics a chance to work. When I questioned whether it could be mouth cancer, the doctor replied, 'You’re 23, you can’t get mouth cancer.'

Laura Taylor

I agreed. After all, I’d always looked after my mouth. Never missed a dental check up, always eaten a balanced diet and I don’t drink or smoke. After I completed the course of antibiotics I returned to the doctor and used photo evidence to prove there was no change to my lump. I was referred for a biopsy and tissue was taken for testing. I had seven stitches to the side of my mouth, and the pain was so intense I couldn’t eat or speak for hours. I returned home the same day and the waiting game began.

Weeks later I was diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) of the tongue. I was distraught. My consultant planned to remove the lump and perform a radical skin graft from my arm onto my tongue, and being a mum, I didn’t really consider how severe the operation was going to be - I was willing to do anything to make sure I was around to watch my son grow up.

The plan was to undergo a 14-hour operation, where I would be put into an induced coma. Fortunately when the date in late November 2017 came, my surgeon gave me good news - the PET scan showed the cancer was smaller than they thought, and they could perform laser surgery to the tongue instead. I was also told my tonsils had flashed up as a cancer hotspot on the PET scan, so to be safe they were going to perform a tonsillectomy (both tonsils are fully removed from the back of the throat) as well.

I recovered well and spent five days in hospital, before returning home in early December and waiting to see if I needed radiotherapy to direct at the cancerous cells. Again, I’m lucky to say that I didn’t, and this is all due to early diagnosis.

Age is just a number. Let my story be a life lesson on the importance of knowing your mouth and preventing this horrible disease.

Spot the signs...

  • Mouth ulcers that do not heal within three weeks
  • Red and white patches in the mouth as well as lumps and swellings in the head and neck
  • Unexplained loose teeth or sockets that do not heal after extractions
  • Persistent numbness or an odd feeling on the lip or tongue
  • Changes in speech, such as a lisp

More from Mouth Cancer Action Month

  • More than 8,300 people in the United Kingdom are now diagnosed with mouth cancer every year. This figure has increased by 49% in the last decade, according to the Oral Health Foundation.
  • Although this mouth cancer is more common in over 50s, last year it claimed 2,722 lives in the UK. Many fatalities occur because the disease is caught too late.
  • While the disease can affect anyone, most are linked to a series of risk factors including smoking, drinking alcohol to excess and the human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • For more information and advice regarding mouth cancer, visit mouthcancer.org

Olivia – who rebranded as Liv a few years ago – is a freelance digital writer at Marie Claire UK. She recently swapped guaranteed sunshine and a tax-free salary in Dubai for London’s constant cloud and overpriced public transport. During her time in the Middle East, Olivia worked for international titles including Cosmopolitan, HELLO! and Grazia. She transitioned from celebrity weekly magazine new! in London, where she worked as the publication’s Fitness & Food editor. Unsurprisingly, she likes fitness and food, and also enjoys hoarding beauty products and recycling.