IT kills more people in the UK than cervical cancer, but the battle to raise awareness of mouth cancer has only just begun. It affects around 3,500 people every year, with almost 1,600 dying from the disease, writes Julian Vaccari.

But now, as part of Oral Cancer Awareness Week, dentists are raising awareness of the condition, to reduce the number of deaths through early detection.

Michael Meyer, head of the Westgate Dental Clinic in Winchester, is supporting the campaign by offering a free screening to new patients as an introduction to the practice.

Mr Meyer said: "Dentists are trained to be able to look out for oral cancer. The tell-tale signs are usually white or red patches in the mouth, funny little growths or lesions which don't go away. We also look out for sores on lips which aren't healing.

"In addition, we can spot things like melanomas by checking moles on people's faces. If we see anything unusual we arrange for the patient to have a test at the hospital to put their minds at rest."

Mouth cancer is a malignant growth which can occur in any part of the mouth including the lips and tongue, often appearing as a painless mouth ulcer that does not heal. Anyone can be affected by mouth cancer whether they have their own teeth or not.

Smoking or chewing tobacco greatly increases your risk of mouth cancer. Heavy drinking is also a risk. If you do both, your chances of getting mouth cancer are much greater.

The condition is more likely to occur in people aged over 40 years, and is more common in men than women.

Mr Meyer said: "Oral cancer can be easily treated if spotted early. I only see perhaps one case a year - all of our patients who visit on a regular basis are routinely screened.

"All patients with suspicious lesions should contact their dentist who will decide if further testing is necessary. It's far better to be safe than sorry."

The routine examination is quick, simple and requires no injection. The dentist carefully checks the inside of your mouth with the help of a small mirror.

Dentists are able to see parts of the mouth that patients cannot see and they can also use a special blue mouthwash which stains any suspicious growth so it can be found more easily.

To book a free check, call the clinic on 01962 623456.