Oral Cancer Awareness Month promotes prevention, early detection

MOBILE, Ala. – Representatives of the Alabama Department of Public Health, the USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute and the Mobile County Health Department have joined Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to proclaim April as Oral Cancer Awareness Month in the state. This annual observance promotes regular oral cancer examinations, avoidance of tobacco in any form, and vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV) to prevent oral cancer.

Oral cancer begins in the mouth, and oropharyngeal cancer is confined to the base of the tongue, soft palate, tonsils and back of the throat. The American Cancer Society estimates that 58,450 people in the U.S. will get oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer this year, and 12,230 people will die of these cancers.

“The good news is that most oropharyngeal cancers are preventable. An estimated 70% of these cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), but we have the safe and effective HPV vaccine to prevent against this. The HPV vaccine can be given to adolescents starting at age 9 and is recommended for individuals through age 26,” said Casey L. Daniel, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of epidemiology and public health at the University of South Alabama and associate professor of family medicine at the Frederick P. Whiddon College of Medicine.

“Also, unvaccinated adults between the ages of 27 and 45 can decide if they want to be vaccinated through discussion their healthcare provider.”

Observational studies by the American Dental Association Council on Scientific Affairs have found that HPV vaccination is associated with a greater than 90% reduction in oral HPV infection.

Other factors that significantly increase the risk for oral and oropharyngeal cancer include tobacco use in all forms and heavy consumption of alcohol, especially when they are both used. The National Cancer Institute ranks Alabama 10th worst in the U.S. for tobacco use: 18.5% of Alabama adults and 5.7% of teens smoke cigarettes, 4.9% of adults and 17.5% of teens use e-cigarettes or vape products, and 5.7% of Alabama adults and 4.1% of teens use smokeless tobacco.

Physicians also cite prolonged sun exposure to the lips, male gender, fair skin, age over 45, poor oral hygiene, poor diet and nutrition, marijuana use and a weakened immune system as risk factors.

For prevention and early detection:

  • Vaccinate yourself and your children against HPV.
  • Stop tobacco use and use alcohol in moderation.
  • Check your mouth for unusual sores, swelling and areas of red or white lesions regularly.
  • Ask your dental provider to screen for oral cancers.

If you have any of these symptoms of oral cancer, see your healthcare provider:

  • Persistent hoarseness or sore throat
  • Earaches or enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Unexplained weight loss

On April 5, Alabama will observe “Light up Alabama Red.” The RSA buildings in Mobile and Montgomery will be illuminated in red to highlight Oral Cancer Awareness Month.

For more information about oral cancer, visit the Alabama Department of Public Health’s Oral Health Education webpage. Read the full proclamation for Oral Cancer Awareness Month.

Photo: Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signs a proclamation declaring April to be Oral Cancer Awareness Month on March 14, 2024. Ivey is flanked by statewide healthcare leaders, including Casey L. Daniel, Ph.D., M.P.H., center, director of epidemiology and public health at the University of South Alabama and associate professor of family medicine at the Frederick P. Whiddon College of Medicine. At right is oral cancer survivor David Bronner, Ph.D., CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama. (Photo, courtesy of ADPH)

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