How to prevent or detect oral cancer? Alabama campaign says ‘Watch Your Mouth!’

How to prevent or detect oral cancer? Alabama campaign says ‘Watch Your Mouth!’
Mobile dentist Dr. Day Gates III urges Alabamians to check their mouths for unusual sores, swelling or lesions, and to ask a dental provider for an oral cancer screening. (contributed)

Oral cancer is preventable and treatable if detected early. That’s the takeaway from “Watch Your Mouth!,” a statewide campaign launched this month to raise awareness about cancers of the mouth including the tongue, soft palate, tonsils or back of the throat.

“Talk to a dental healthcare professional about what you can do to prevent oral cancer at your next visit,” said state Dental Director Dr. Tommy Johnson of the Alabama Department of Public Health. ADPH and USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute are among the organizations spreading the word about oral cancer during April, Oral Cancer Awareness Month.

Alabama ranks fifth in the nation 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 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Earlier this year, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey proclaimed April 2019 as Oral Cancer Awareness Month to draw attention to the need for regular oral cancer examinations performed by oral health professionals and other prevention efforts.

“Oral cancers may not receive as much attention as some other deadly cancers, but they need it,” said Casey L. Daniel, Ph.D., assistant professor of oncologic sciences at Mitchell Cancer Institute and chair of the Alabama Comprehensive Cancer Control Coalition. “That’s why we are working with almost 20 collaborating organizations to raise awareness about how it can be prevented or detected early.”

Oral health professionals recommend regularly checking your mouth to help guard against oral cancers, which can be deadly if not caught early. (Getty Images)

Dentists are on the front lines of oral cancer detection, said Dr. Day Gates III, president of the Mobile Area Dental Society. “When you perform an exam on someone, you’re looking to make sure tissues are healthy and normal,” Gates said. “Regular checkups over time should document any changes.”

The following actions are recommended for prevention and early detection of oral cancers:

  • Vaccinate yourself or your children against the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV infection is responsible for about 70 percent of oropharyngeal cancers.
  • Stop tobacco use.
  • 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 doctor if you have any of these symptoms:

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

Football legend and cancer survivor Pat Sullivan, a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Auburn University, was among the dignitaries present in February when Ivey signed the proclamation declaring April to be Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Sullivan overcame throat cancer after being diagnosed 15 years ago.

In addition to the Mitchell Cancer Institute, ADPH and ACCCC, supporters of the “Watch Your Mouth!” campaign include the State Committee of Public Health, the UAB School of Dentistry and UAB Otolaryngology.

Related Stories