Former Irish Olympic boxer wants to land knockout blow in fight against mouth cancer

Cathal O'Grady (centre) has urged people to go for a check up as soon as possible. Pic: Colm Mahady / Fennells

A former Irish Olympic boxer discovered he had mouth cancer during a regular visit to his dentist.

Cathal O’Grady, whose cancer was only diagnosed in May this year, said he was shocked when told the news.

“I don’t drink or smoke and lead an active and healthy life, so I was really floored when I received the diagnosis,” he said yesterday.

The former heavyweight boxer, who now runs his own business,, was speaking at the launch of Mouth Cancer Awareness Day.

He wanted to punch home the message that while smoking and drinking increase the risk of mouth cancer, the disease can strike anyone.

After spotting the lump in his mouth, his dentist arranged a biopsy and follow-on appointment with the Dublin University Dental School.

“So the disease was caught in its early stages, and that’s really important,” he said.

Mr O’Grady urged people who may not have been to the dentist for some time to have a free check up on Mouth Cancer Awareness Day, which is on next Wednesday, September 21.

More than 20,000 people have availed of free check-ups on previous Mouth Cancer Awareness Days, and 26 were found to have mouth cancer.

Mouth Cancer Awareness Day was established by a group of mouth, head, and neck cancer survivors in September 2010 when more than 3,000 people queued outside the Dublin and Cork Dental University Hospitals.

It is now supported by the Irish Dental Association, together with Irish Cancer Society, Dublin and Cork Dental University Schools, the Dental Health Foundation, and Mouth, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Ireland.

There are more than 300 cases of cancer of the mouth reported in Ireland every year. These diseases kill around 100 people every year, and are more common in men than in women.

However, since 1994, the occurrence of mouth cancer in women has increased significantly at a rate of 3% per year. Dr Conor McAlister from the Irish Dental Association pointed out that, for people who drink or smoke, the chances of getting oral cancer were up to 40 times greater.

“We are seeing an increase in the incidence of this disease and seeing it in younger people. It’s not just smokers and drinkers. Whatever the cause, the key point is to remember is that early detection save lives.”

More than half of mouth cancers treated will have good survival outcomes and these continue to improve each year.


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