How a vaccine can prevent you from developing oral cancers

4 Tips to Preventing Oral Cancer

Oropharyngeal (oral) cancer includes cancers in the structures in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue, palatine tonsils, posterior pharyngeal wall, and soft palate. Most cancers in this region are squamous cell carcinomas, which are caused by HPV, the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States.


Get vaccinated for HPV.

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and you may have seen a lot of educational material this month promoting the HPV vaccine as a method of preventing cervical cancer. While it’s true HPV is known to cause cervical cancer, HPV is also a concern for men. In fact, men appear to be more likely than women to develop an oral HPV infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

People of all ages, genders, and sexual identities are at risk of HPV. The best way to prevent HPV is to get vaccinated before you become sexually active. CDC recommends HPV vaccination for 11- to 12-year-olds. CDC also recommends HPV vaccination for everyone through age 26 years, if not vaccinated already. Some adults age 27 through 45 years who are not already vaccinated may also benefit from receiving the vaccine.

“By getting vaccinated for HPV early you are taking the biggest step to preventing and spreading cervical & oral cancers. The vaccine is also almost 100 percent effective in preventing external genital warts if you are vaccinated before being exposed to the virus,” said Lisa Russell, Chief Medical Officer for Heartland Community Health Center. “If you are a parent, starting your child’s HPV vaccine series when they 12 years old or younger helps protect them long before they are exposed.”


Don’t use tobacco.

Aside from HPV, tobacco and alcohol use are the strongest risk factors for oral cancer. The longer you’ve used tobacco and the more often you use it, the greater your risk of head and neck cancers. Smoking isn’t the only danger – chewing and smokeless tobaccos can create ulcers in the mouth that can become cancerous. Smokeless tobacco also contains chemicals known to damage a gene that protects against cancer.


Avoid drinking alcohol.

People who have more than 3.5 alcoholic drinks per day increase their risk of oral cavity cancers two to three times, according to the National Institutes of Health. Just like with tobacco use, the longer you use alcohol and the more you drink, the more your risk goes up.


See your dentist regularly.

In addition to helping keep your mouth healthy, dental providers are often the first to notice growths that could potentially be cancerous. Seeing a dentist every six months, combined with good oral hygiene (brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing daily), can help reduce your risk.

“Oral health has a direct impact on your overall health and wellbeing,” said Mollie Day, Chief Dental Officer at Heartland Community Health Center. “During your routine dental visit, your dental provider should not only be cleaning your teeth and checking for cavities, but also examining your mouth and screening for oral cancers.”


HPV vaccine and dentistry for children at Panda Pediatrics:

HPV vaccine and dentistry for adults at Heartland Community Health Center: 

“If you are a parent, starting your child’s HPV vaccine series when they 12 years old or younger helps protect them long before they are exposed.” – Lisa Russell, Chief Medical Officer.