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Oral Cancer Awareness Month promotes prevention and early detection

Representatives of the Alabama Department of Public Health and the USA Mitchell Cancer Institute joined Gov. Kay Ivey who proclaimed the month of April 2024 as Oral Cancer Awareness Month in Alabama. This annual observance promotes regular oral cancer examinations, avoidance of tobacco in any form, and human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to prevent oral cancer.

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

Factors which significantly increase the risk for oral and oropharyngeal cancer include tobacco use in all forms and heavy consumption of alcohol, especially when tobacco and drugs are both used. The National Cancer Institute ranks Alabama tenth worst in the U.S. for tobacco use: 18.5 percent of Alabama adults and 5.7 percent of teens smoke cigarettes, 4.9 percent of adults and 17.5 percent of teens use e-cigarettes or vape, and 5.7 percent of Alabama adults and 4.1 percent of teens use smokeless tobacco.

Infection with HPV is an increasingly common risk factor for oropharyngeal cancer. The HPV vaccine was developed to prevent cervical and other cancers of the reproductive system. Observational studies by the American Dental Association Council on Scientific Affairs also found that HPV vaccination is associated with a greater than 90 percent reduction in oral HPV infection. Reducing the risk of HPV infection is important, as more than 70 percent of these cancers are caused by HPV.

Other factors that increase the risk of developing oral or oropharyngeal cancer are prolonged sun exposure to the lips, male gender, fair skin, age over 45, poor oral hygiene, poor diet and nutrition, marijuana use, and weakened immune systems.

For prevention and early detection:

· Vaccinate yourself and your children against HPV.

· Stop tobacco use and use alcohol only in moderation.

· Check your mouth for unusual sores, swelling, and areas of red or white lesions on a regular basis.

· Ask your dental provider to screen for oral cancers.

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

· Persistent hoarseness or sore throat

· Earaches or enlarged lymph nodes of the neck

· Difficulty swallowing

· Unexplained weight loss

Regular oral cancer examinations performed by an oral health professional remain the best method for detecting oral cancer in its early stages. When detected and treated early, treatment-related health problems are reduced, and survival rates may increase.

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.

Oral health information is available at the following website:


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