HUNDREDS of shoppers have been tested for signs of deadly head and neck cancer.
Workers from the city’s Royal Hospital set up a stall in The Bridges to try and raise awareness of the condition.
The illness is diagnosed in 5,000 people annually in the UK and kills 2,000 people each year - which works out at one death every five hours.
Experts say there has been a 41 per cent increase in head and neck cancers in the past decade and the team was anxious to raise awareness of the epidemic.
Smoking and drinking alcohol in excess are cited as the main factors associated with mouth cancer and people who do both are up to 30 times more likely to develop the condition.
However, about a quarter of head and neck cancers are diagnosed in people who have never smoked and in recent years it has been discovered that some head and neck cancers, particularly those of the tonsil and tongue, are linked to infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV).
This is often related to oral sex which transmits the virus and is thought to be the cause of the huge rise in the incidence of head and neck cancer, as highlighted recently by actor Michael Douglas.
Wearsider Steve Carney, 53, who works at the Nissan car plant, was diagnosed with tonsillar cancer after discovering a lump on his neck in November 2012.
Steve then had an eight-hour operation at Sunderland Royal to remove a tumour, followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatments.
Dad-of-two Steve, who is married to Vivienne and lives in Fulwell, said: “I had been a smoker from the age of 16 until I was diagnosed with the cancer - I haven’t touched a cigarette since.
“The scare I received has made me value the things that I have in life better.
“I’m back to full strength and life is good - apart from my football team, Sunderland.”
About 250 people were given a health check over the course of the day and four have since been given urgent cancer referrals.
Head and neck consultant Helen Cocks, of Sunderland Royal, said: “With people who do not have regular dental checks, a cancer may go un-detected with devastating consequences, resulting in problems with eating, drinking, speech and changes in their appearance.
“These problems often affect the whole family.
“Early detection is the key to transforming survival rates to 90 per cent.”