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Ask the Dentist: Mouth cancer patients at high risk of depression

Dentist Lucy Stock of Gentle Dental Care in Belfast says people over-50s oral cancer patients frequently suffer depression

Mouth cancer treatment often affects the ability to communicate, eat, drink and even breathe

CALLS for greater emotional support of elderly mouth cancer patients following a new study which has shown that they are at a significantly high risk of being admitted to hospital due to depression.

The research, published in Gerodontology, found that men over the age of 50 suffering from mouth cancer were 56 per cent more likely to be admitted to hospital with depression.

Many of these emotional issues come as a result of the significant problems mouth cancer patients face due to the nature of their treatment, which often affects the ability to communicate, eat, drink and even breathe.

Speaking on the issue Dr Nigel Carter, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation, said: "This research is extremely concerning when you consider that most people who are diagnosed with mouth cancer are men over the age of 50. A patient's emotional state has such a huge impact on the potential outcome of their illness. Research shows that many mouth cancer patients who are suffering from depression are less likely to participate in important treatment decisions and to seek the medical and emotional support needed to achieve a positive outcome in their illness.”

When looking at data covering all ages, the research found that all male head and neck cancer patients were 28 per cent more likely to be admitted to hospital with depression while for women the problem was even larger, with a 31 per cent increase in likelihood of hospital admission.

"The very nature of mouth cancer treatment is undoubtedly a major issue here," Dr Carter said. "It can deprive sufferers of many of the basic things which we often take for granted, simple things like the ability to say hello or have a conversation, or feed themselves, or even breath have such a huge impact that it is unsurprising that many patients are at risk of depression.

"We have to all be alert to this problem. I am urging patients to reach out to their friends, family and carers if they feel they need of any support and also to get into contact with cancer support groups who can help them come to terms with elements of their illness."

Latest statistics from Cancer Research UK revealed head and mouth cancers have increased by 68 per cent over the last 20 years. It's now one of very few cancers which is continuing to see a rise in the number of cases.

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