Oral Cancer Awareness Month emphasizes the importance of regular screenings


CONTACT: Tommy Johnson, D.M.D., (334) 206-5398

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. With the support of the Alabama Department of Public Health and the USA Mitchell Cancer Institute, Gov. Kay Ivey has proclaimed this annual observance which promotes prevention and early detection of oral cancer.

Oral cancer 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 that 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, which are often detected too late.

  • 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 among the states for oral cavity and pharynx cancer deaths.

Factors which 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 (HPV) is an increasingly common risk factor for oropharyngeal cancer.

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. Regrettably, Alabama ranks 33rd in the U.S. in HPV vaccination uptake and 25th for HPV vaccination completion.

According to the American Dental Association, HPV can infect the mouth and throat, can cause oropharyngeal cancer, and is thought to cause 70 percent of oropharyngeal cancers in the United States. There are more malignant HPV-associated oral cancers of the oropharynx in men than malignant cervical cancers in women nationally and in Alabama.

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:

  • Vaccinate yourself or your children against HPV.
  • Stop tobacco use and use alcohol only 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 health provider if you have any of these symptoms of oral cancer:

  • 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 14, Alabama will observe “Light up Alabama Red.” The RSA buildings in Mobile and Montgomery and the lights at the entrance of Regions Field will be illuminated in red to highlight Oral Cancer Awareness Month.

Oral health information is available at the following website: 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.