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Oral, head and neck cancer: 2 ways to reduce your risk

Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week® is April 16-22. Are you doing all you can to reduce your risk of developing these cancers?

Oral, head and neck cancers include those that start in the mouth, throat, larynx, sinuses, nose or salivary glands. They don’t include brain cancers or cancers of the eye.

According to the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance, approximately 650,000 people are affected worldwide annually by oral, head and neck cancer. Approximately 65,000 new diagnoses are made each year in the U.S., accounting for about 4% of all cancers, with more than 14,000 deaths.

There are two easily identifiable ways to reduce your risk of getting these cancers:

  • Don’t use tobacco products and limit alcohol consumption. According to the National Cancer Institute, alcohol and tobacco use and secondhand smoke are the most important risk factors for cancers of the oral cavity, hypopharynx and voice box. Stopping tobacco use, including smokeless tobacco, and limiting alcohol consumption are important steps to reducing your risk.
  • Talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated against HPV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 70% of oropharynx cancers, which include the tonsils, soft palate and base of the tongue, can be linked to HPV infection. The CDC recommends everyone between 9 and 26 years old get fully vaccinated against HPV, and those 27-45 years old should discuss vaccination with their physician. The vaccine isn’t recommended for those older than 45.

Symptoms of oral, head and neck cancers can vary depending on the location. They can include sores in the mouth that don’t heal, a lump or thickening in the mouth or throat, trouble breathing or speaking, trouble chewing or swallowing, blocked sinuses that won’t clear, headaches and pain in the mouth, throat, ears or sinuses.

If you experience any of these symptoms, talk to your physician immediately. It’s also a good idea to ask your dentist to check your mouth for anything suspicious during dental visits.

Maury Regional Health (MRH) offers comprehensive care for cancer patients at the Maury Regional Cancer Center, located at the Columbia Mall at 808 S. James Campbell Blvd. in Columbia. Its team of board certified and fellowship-trained physicians work closely with surgeons and radiation oncologists to provide a personalized treatment plan for each patient.

MRH also offers support groups for those who are diagnosed with cancer and their family and friends. For more information, call 931.540.4166 or go to

To learn more about the cancer services offered at MRH, visit

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