A DEVASTATED widow claims her husband could still be alive today if doctors had diagnosed his mouth cancer earlier.

Hunger Hill cleaner Christopher Caton died in July last year aged 56 after suffering with oral health problems which were not recognised as cancer for more than a year.

His wife Patricia Caton is now taking legal action against the Royal Bolton Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and is desperate to raise awareness of the disease’s warning signs.

The 54-year-old, who is also a cleaner, said: “When we were told Chris had cancer, we were devastated.

“He asked doctors was he going to die – and little did he know, he had just five weeks left.

“If the cancer had been caught earlier he would probably still be alive today.”

Mr Caton was a regular attendee at the dentist and it was during a routine appointment in May 2013 that his dentist noticed a small white lump at the side of his gum.

The stepfather-of-two was referred to the Royal Bolton Hospital for the tooth to be extracted – undergoing the procedure in December that year.

But, with part of the tooth’s root left in Mr Caton’s mouth, the wound did not heal.

He noticed a bad smell coming out of his mouth, was in pain, had difficulty eating, and lost weight.

Mr Caton went back to the Royal Bolton Hospital numerous times in 2014, but Mrs Caton claims he was simply advised to wash his mouth with salt water and told the wound would heal in time.

He eventually had surgery to remove the roots of the tooth on May 30 but, after further tests, he was given the news he had mouth cancer.

Mr Caton underwent 18 hours of complex surgery on June 30 and July 2, as medics attempted to remove the tumour and parts of his jawbone and carry out a neck resection.

But these failed, and as Mr Caton recovered from a third operation at the Royal Blackburn Hospital on July 9, he suffered a stroke.

Despite initially having some communication with his family, on the morning of July 12 Mr Caton’s relatives were told he would not regain consciousness and he died that evening.

Mrs Caton, who lives in Hunger Hill, said: “There is never much in the news about oral cancer and its warning signs.

“If we had suspected to look sooner, we could have stopped Chris from dying.

“It is too late for Chris now, but perhaps we can help others in future.”

Heather Edwards, head of communications at Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We understand Mrs Caton’s concerns and very much support her wish to raise awareness of oral cancer.

“Mrs Caton made a formal complaint to the hospital about the timing of her husband’s treatment and diagnosis.

“We have met with Mrs Caton and other members of the family and also shared with them the findings of our review of the care provided and our action plan to improve practice in the future.

“We have not received formal notification that the family is intending to take legal action.

“The trust offers its deepest condolences to the Caton family for their loss, and is fully committed to ensuring that everything possible is done to learn from this sad event.”

Mark Havenhand, a specialist medical negligence lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, who is representing Mrs Caton, said: “Although the case is at an early stage, we are investigating Christopher’s care to determine whether more could have been done to diagnose his mouth cancer sooner, which may have given him a better outlook.”

Mr and Mrs Caton were married 17 years. He was stepfather to her children Kevin and Emma Cornwell, aged 30 and 24, and grandfather to 10-year-old Jessica Billington and six-year-old Leyton Henry Cornwell.

Last year the family raised more than £725 for the Mouth Cancer Foundation, and Mrs Caton is determined to raise £1,000 for the charity this year.

In September she will complete a 10km sponsored walk in Hyde Park in London alongside Emma, her daughter-in-law Nichola Billington, cousin Kathryn Richards and “little star” Jessica.

Mouth Cancer Foundation statistics suggest almost 8,000 people are diagnosed with oral carcinoma each year. Treatment is usually via surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

The NHS describes the warning signs as red or white patches on the gums, tongue or lining of the mouth, and ulcers and lumps that do not heal within three weeks.

Dr Vinod Joshi, founder of the Mouth Cancer Foundation, said: “Head and neck cancers are particularly vicious when detected late.

“Early detection not only saves lives but is less debilitating, and this reduces the cost to the NHS dramatically.”