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

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  • 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

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