Search This Blog

Thursday, 14 November 2013

How French kiss gave me mouth cancer

Survivor: Victoria
“I wouldn’t have ignored a lump in my breast and I would have been the first to tell my husband, Gareth, to get a lump in his testicles checked. That’s why I’m so angry with myself for not doing something sooner about the lump I felt when I swallowed.”

These are the words of Victoria Workman, who has been fighting cancer after it was discovered on her tongue.

Victoria, 51, just didn’t realise the ­sensation – which she likens to having a mushroom lodged in the back of her mouth – could have been cancer.

And she’s not alone in her ignorance. In a survey of 2,000 people by the British Dental Health Foundation and the company Denplan, not one person knew what causes mouth cancer – smoking, drinking too much alcohol, a poor diet and HPV, the human papillomavirus.

Actor Michael Douglas has claimed his mouth cancer was caused by HPV, which was ­probably transmitted via oral sex with multiple partners.

There’s been a 50% rise in the number of cases over the last 10 years and it claims more lives than cervical and testicular cancer combined.

Around 6,500 are diagnosed each year and it is often fatal because people are ignorant about the symptoms.

“I just thought the odd feeling I’d had was a gland or tonsil and would go away,” says Victoria, a children’s play worker, who lives with partner Gareth, a 54-year-old prison governor, in ­Kingston upon Thames in Surrey.

“And that’s the most frightening thing. I would have continued to ignore it had I not caught a heavy cold last May and started choking.”

Victoria’s mum insisted she go to A&E, where her symptoms were dismissed. But after seeing her GP she was sent to the Ear, Nose and Throat Department at ­Kingston Hospital.

“The consultant wanted a second opinion,” Victoria says. “It was then I began to suspect it was serious. I kept thinking, ‘you stupid woman. How could you have ignored it?’”

Poorly: Victoria

Jean-Pierre Jeannon, a consultant head and neck surgeon at London Bridge Hospital, explains that a lump of persistent ulcers is a typical symptom of mouth cancer.

“They’re different from an ‘aphthous’ or ‘stress ulcer’ that come and go and affect different parts of the mouth. A cancerous ulcer is often painless and stays in the same place,” he says.

“Mouth cancers, termed ­‘squamous cell carcinomas’, arise from the lining inside the mouth. They can affect any part – lip, tongue or floor of the mouth.”

Last June Victoria underwent an MRI scan and biopsy. She found out she had a grade-two cancer at the base of her tongue caused by HPV, which had probably spread through open-mouthed or French kissing.

“I had to answer lots of awkward ­questions but I’ve been happily married for 28 years so I must have contracted HPV years ago. I can only assume I got it way back, but how I’ll never know,” says Victoria.

Mr Jeannon adds: “The incidence of HPV causing mouth cancers is increasing and we think over 90% of adults have been exposed to it and not necessarily through oral sex – it can be passed through kissing or on hands and be dormant for years.”

Thankfully Victoria’s hadn’t spread.

“I asked if I was going to die. My doctor ­said it was treatable but did admit I was in for a rough time,” she says.

Victoria, who has two grown-up children, had to go to the Royal Marsden Hospital in Central London for a six-week course of radiotherapy.

“I was strapped to a bed while a machine crackled for three minutes. The hair on the back of my head burned off.

“After a week my mouth and throat erupted with ulcers. It was like my tongue was coated with battery acid and my throat was on fire. I couldn’t eat.

“I lost 4½st in three months and had to be admitted to hospital twice, I was so ­dehydrated. At one point they tried to feed me with a tube up my nose that went into my tummy.

“My mouth was ­continually full of saliva and some days it was so sore I couldn’t speak.”

Victoria finished treatment in August and is now free from cancer. “I’ve lost 60% of my taste and have a very dry mouth which means I can’t eat things like bread, cake, meat and ­chocolate. I used to love food so much I was 12st and a size 20. Now I’m 8st and size 8.

“Now I support mouth cancer patients on the Cancer Research helpline and I would urge everyone to have regular dental checkups as dentists look for symptoms.”

And Victoria implores everyone to examine themselves. “Check the roof of your mouth, tongue, under your tongue, the inside of your cheeks for anything unusual,” she says. “It could save your life.”

- This month, dentists across the country are offering free oral cancer examinations – search For information on cancer see

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Don't Forget To Join Our Community