Author: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc

Doctors diagnose about 50,000 new cases of oral cancer every year, and about 10,000 people with oral cancer die every year. Men are twice as likely to get oral cancer than women.

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. We want to draw awareness to this terrible disease in hopes you will take action to prevent or catch it early with routine screenings and self-checks.

While smoking and alcohol consumption increase your risk of oral cancer 15 times, having human papilloma virus (HPV) increases your risk by 30 times. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that nearly all sexually active adults will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives. Although cervical cancer is more closely associated with HPV, oral cancer can be caused by some types of HPV. Then again, 25% of oral cancer patients have no attributable risk factors.

Prevention is key

Like most cancers, reducing alcohol consumption and quitting smoking greatly reduces your chances for getting oral cancer. Applying SPF lip balm can help protect you from lip cancer. Using condoms during sexual activity may reduce your risk of contracting HPV.

Dr. Sandra Balmoria with CMH Family Care Center recently gave a talk on teen health and expressed the importance of the HPV vaccine.

“The only vaccine we have for cancer is the HPV vaccine — Gardasil,” Balmoria said. “This vaccine is available in a two or three-part series for ages 11-45.”

The vaccine is available for free for children at VCU Health CMH, but not all adults. It depends on your insurance.

Medicaid doesn’t cover all vaccines for adults, so some adults may have to pay for it at the health department or VCU Health CMH. Underinsured adults may be eligible for a free HPV vaccine at a federally qualified health clinic, like PATHS. Reach out to your Medicaid provider to see if the HPV vaccine is covered. If it’s not, then check with a FQHC like PATHS to see if you would be considered underinsured and eligible for a free HPV vaccine there.

Early detection

Most people who see a dentist on a regular basis are getting oral cancer screenings twice a year. After your cleaning, the dentist should look for any suspicious areas that may need further evaluation.

On a monthly basis you should check your mouth and lips for a sore, lump or patch that doesn’t heal. Other signs are bleeding, pain or numbness, change in voice, loose teeth, trouble chewing or swallowing, swelling of the jaw and persistent sore throat. If you notice any of these, see a doctor sooner than your normal check-up.

Screening locations

See your primary care physician for screening. VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital in South Hill, Virginia, is your one-stop shop for health care needs. We have dental, primary, specialty and cancer care close to home. Call (434) 584-5590 to make a dental appointment or (434) 584-2273 to make a primary care or ear, nose and throat appointment. Cancer appointments are usually made on a referral basis if needed. Visit for a complete list of services.