Oral Cancer Awareness Month


CONTACT: Tommy Johnson, DMD
(334) 206-5398

“Watch Your Mouth!” This slogan reminds the public about the need for everyone to learn the signs of oral and oropharyngeal cancer and check their mouths each month.

This is important because Alabama ranks fifth in the U.S. for oral cavity and pharynx cancer incidence and is seventh among the states for deaths from these cancers, according to the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To draw attention to the need for regular oral cancer examinations performed by oral health professionals and other prevention efforts, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey has proclaimed April 2019 as Oral Cancer Awareness Month.

“Talk to a dental healthcare professional about what you can do to prevent oral cancer at your next visit,” State Dental Director Dr. Tommy Johnson, Alabama Department of Public Health, said.

The following actions are recommended for prevention and early detection:

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

See your doctor if you have any of these symptoms of oral cancers:

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

Oropharyngeal cancers are those cancers confined to the base of the tongue, soft palate, tonsils and back of the throat. The American Cancer Society estimates that 51,540 people will get oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer this year and 10,030 people will die of these cancers.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) causes around 70 percent of oropharyngeal cancers. The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine can reduce oral HPV infection by 90 percent. HPV can infect the mouth and throat, can cause oropharyngeal cancer, and is thought to cause 70 percent of such cancers in the U.S. Yet Alabama residents rank 43rd in the U.S. in HPV vaccination uptake.

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said, “When detected and treated early, treatment-related health problems are reduced and survival rates may increase.”

Football legend and cancer survivor Pat Sullivan, a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Auburn University, was among the dignitaries present for the proclamation signing. Sullivan overcame throat cancer after being diagnosed 15 years ago. Others attending the proclamation ceremony included representatives of the Alabama Comprehensive Cancer Control Coalition, the Alabama Department of Public Health, the State Committee of Public Health, the UAB School of Dentistry, UAB Otolaryngology and USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute.

More information is available at alabamapublichealth.gov/oralhealth.

County health departments throughout Alabama provide a wide range of confidential and professional services. Contact your local county health department for additional information.

Mission: To promote, protect, and improve Alabama’s health

Vision: Healthy People. Healthy Communities. Healthy Alabama.