Warning after death of dad, aged 37, from cancer

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People are being warned to make sure they keep their appointments after the death of a dad, aged just 37, who lived a healthy lifestyle and didn’t drink or smoke.

Alan Birch, 37, died from mouth cancer – and a dentist has now warned many others could be facing a tragic diagnosis.

Alan had to have 90 per cent of his tongue removed when he was diagnosed with the cancer in 2018.

The shock diagnosis came despite the fact Alan was not a smoker or drinker and lived a fit, healthy, active life as a self-employed plasterer, reports The Echo.

Alan and his partner Debbie McDonough were married in February this year. Alan died in April.

Now a warning has been issued that others need to be aware of what happened.

Debbie said: “Usually the cancer he has is curable, but he got it in a very aggressive form. Every time they operated, it came back worse.”

Dad-of-seven Alan Birch, pictured with his partner Debbie (Image: Liverpool Echo)

Mouth cancer takes more lives than cervical cancer and testicular cancer combined, with 8,722 new cases reported in the UK last year. This is a 58{d9cf345e272ccae06ddf47bdd1d417e7fd8f81a9d196cc6ace4cb20fad8f4c22} increase compared to a decade ago and a 97{d9cf345e272ccae06ddf47bdd1d417e7fd8f81a9d196cc6ace4cb20fad8f4c22} rise since 2000.

Many cases are caught by dentists – who now routinely look for the signs of mouth cancer during check ups.

Alan Birch and Debbie McDonough on their wedding day in February (Image: Joe Hague Photography)

But according to the British Dental Association 19 million treatments have been missed due to lockdown.

Dr Catherine Tannahill, dentist and director of clinical dentistry at Portman Dental Care said: “As dentists we see first-hand the impact this disease can have, and that’s why we want to ensure people are aware of what the signs and symptoms are, what to do if they spot an issue and what steps they can take to reduce the risk of developing mouth cancer.

“This is now more important than ever before, as thousands of diagnoses may have potentially been missed this year due to dental practices having to close in initial lockdown, and the subsequent backlog of appointments since.

“While this may sound alarming, early diagnosis of mouth cancer leads to a 90{d9cf345e272ccae06ddf47bdd1d417e7fd8f81a9d196cc6ace4cb20fad8f4c22} survival rate, which is why it is imperative that people continue visiting their dentist for regular check-ups.

Alan Birch led a healthy, active lifestyle before he was diagnosed with the deadly disease (Image: Liverpool Echo)

“Dentists play a pivotal role in the detection of mouth cancer, as they will always check for the classic signs of the disease during any routine appointment. As a dental professional, it was concerning to see through our research how many people were unaware of this.

“The most common signs of mouth cancer are mouth ulcers that do not heal in three weeks, unusual lumps or swelling in the mouth, head or neck, and red and white patches within the mouth. Mouth cancer can appear in the tonsils, the roof or floor of the mouth and in the tongue, so it is important that people thoroughly check all areas of their mouth.

“There are also a few simple lifestyle changes that people can make that can help reduce the risk of developing mouth cancer. These include maintaining a healthy diet, reducing drinking alcohol, stopping smoking, using SPF on your lips and of course, visiting the dentist regularly.

“We strongly encourage people to act fast once they spot anything out of the ordinary, as it will vastly increase their chance of combating the disease. Seek advice from a healthcare professional as soon as possible if you have any concerns.

“Sadly, 2,704 people die from mouth cancer every year, but with increased awareness and knowledge, and regular trips to the dentist, we can all help to reduce that number.”

More information and advice about mouth cancer can be found here.

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