ADPH urges oral cancer awareness
It’s always “something awareness month,” and that’s no less true in April. In addition to being Alcohol Awareness Month, STI Awareness Month, Autism Awareness Month and Sports Eye Safety Awareness Month – among many others – April is also Oral Cancer Awareness Month. We want to join the state health department in encouraging greater oral health, particularly with an eye toward preventing oral cancer.
Oral cancer, according to promotional materials from the Alabama Department of Public Health, starts 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 54,540 people will get oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer this year, and 11,580 people will die of these cancers.
Too many Alabamians are suffering from these cancers, according to the ADPH. These cancers are often detected too late for treatment to be successful.
The National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rank Alabama 15th in the U.S. for oral cavity and pharynx cancer incidence. Alabama is third for oral cavity and pharynx cancer deaths.
Factors that greatly 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. Infection with the human papillomavirus is an increasingly common risk factor for oropharyngeal cancer, too.
While 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 find 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.
Alabama ranks 33rd in the U.S. in HPV vaccination uptake and 25th for HPV vaccination completion, according to the ADPH.
Other factors that increase the risk of developing oral or oropharyngeal cancer are prolonged sun exposure, 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, the ADPH recommends vaccinating yourself and your children against HPV; stopping tobacco use and using alcohol only in moderation; regularly checking your mouth for unusual sores, swelling and areas of red or white lesions; and asking your dental provider to screen for oral cancers.
People should see a health provider if they have any of these symptoms of oral cancer: persistent hoarseness or sore throat, earaches or enlarged lymph nodes of the neck, difficulty swallowing or unexplained weight loss.
We don’t want to get “preachy” but we each only have this one body. Although modern medicine can do amazing things, there is still perhaps no better medicine than doing what you can to prevent an illness or injury in the first place. We hope you’ll take the time this month to consider your oral health and take the steps needed to protect your tongue, teeth, throat and gums for a lifetime.