Friday, April 12, 2019

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

The Mobile skyline was lit in red for Oral Cancer Awareness Month as part of a campaign led by USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute. Organizations across Alabama are urging people to get screened by their dentist and make sure to get adolescents vaccinated against humanpapillomavirus, which causes 70 percent of oral cancers.
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 Governor 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 Dr. Casey L. Daniel, 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.”

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 Governor 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.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Register Now: Autism Matters Conference

The Autism Society of Alabama, in partnership with the University of South Alabama Regional Autism Network, will host the fourth annual Autism Matters Conference April 29, 2019, from 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. at the Orange Beach Event Center.

The program is designed as an interdisciplinary conference for parents, caregivers and service providers. The conference is open to all interested in increasing knowledge, addressing outreach and improving outcomes in adults with autism. Continuing education credits are available.

Presentations include:

Anna McConnell
State Autism Coordinator, Alabama Department of Mental Health
"Autism Services in Alabama: The State of the State"

Dr. Caroline Gomez
Autism Specialist, Autism Diagnostics, Consultation & Training LLC
"Road Map to Alabama Transition Services: Guidance for Families"

Dr. Ashley Perry Cawley
Clinical Assistant Professor of Special Education, University of Alabama
"Overview of Evidence-based Practices for Autism and Related Developmental Disabilities"

Scott Parks
Executive Director, Project Outreach Gulf Coast
"Immerse: Teaching Students with Autism in an Elementary School Environment"

Tina Sanders
Education Specialist, Alabama State Department of Education
"Accessing Services for Students Through the Alabama State Department of Education"

Dana Handmacher
Parent, Constituency Board President, USA Regional Autism Network
Panel Discussion: "Unique Perspectives on Autism"

Visit the conference website for more information and to register.

Mark Your Calendar: Resident and Fellow Exposition set for May 23

The Graduate Medical Education Committee at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine will host the third annual Resident and Fellow Exposition on May 23, 2019, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Strada Patient Care Center Conference Room on the first floor.

The exposition is an opportunity for residents and fellows to display their scholarly activities from research projects, quality improvement projects, and patient safety and advocacy projects. Projects will be presented in poster form, and $300 cash awards will be given to the winners of each poster category. Clinical vignettes (case reports/series presentations) are not eligible for the cash awards but will be accepted based on available space

Submissions must be entered by April 22. A final draft of the poster in PowerPoint format must be received by the GME Office by May 13.

For more information, as well as guidelines about presenting at the exposition, visit

Coordinator Advocacy Committee presents GME Program Coordinators' Retreat

The Coordinator Advocacy Committee recently hosted its second annual GME Program Coordinators' Retreat. The event covered professional development, team-based learning, and information on an array of graduate medical education topics.

Dr. Allen Perkins, professor and chair of family medicine at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, presented the keynote lecture, "The Role of Academic Healthcare in Improving the Health of the Community."

Motivational guest speaker Dr. Juanita L. Harris-Braxton presented "Career Development and Coordinator/Total Graduate Medical Education Program Wellness." She serves as the surgical education training administrator for the department of surgery at the University of California - Davis campus.

Katherine Rigsby, communications instructor at USA, presented "Organizational Skills."

Monday, April 8, 2019

Immune response worsens outcomes for African-American patients with ovarian cancer

Dr. Rodney P. Rocconi, a gynecologic oncologist and interim director of the USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute, works in the lab with Dr. Luciana Da Silva Barnes, assistant professor of basic and translational gynecological oncology.
African-American patients with advanced ovarian cancer were found to have a pre-existing immune response linked to worse survival rates compared with their white counterparts, according to research led by Dr. Rodney P. Rocconi, a gynecologic oncologist and interim director of the USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute.

In the study, researchers employed RNA gene sequencing to examine the immune responses of 94 ovarian cancer patients from across the United States. They identified five genes that were overexpressed in African-American patients and were associated with the IDO immune pathway. The overexpression led to worse survivals, the study found.

“Our research suggests that there may be an opportunity to selectively use immunotherapy targeted to the IDO pathway to potentially close the racial disparity gap in ovarian cancer,” Dr. Rocconi said.

The study was one of two presentations on gynecologic cancers and race given by Dr. Rocconi at the recent Society of Gynecologic Oncology’s 50th Annual Meeting on Women’s Cancer in Honolulu.

In the second study, Dr. Rocconi found lower enrollment among African-American patients in Phase 1 gynecologic oncology clinical trials compared with their white counterparts or other races. Researchers analyzed 357 clinical trials involving 9,492 gynecologic cancer patients between 1985 and 2018. They found that African-American enrollment was 19 times lower than expected for ovarian trials, 22 times lower for endometrial trials, and 54 times lower for cervical trials on an age-adjusted basis.

Clinical trials are research studies designed to test new therapies for cancer and other diseases.

“By not having equal inclusion of African-American patients on Phase 1 clinical trials, we are thereby self-selecting cancer therapies that are known to work mainly in the majority population,” Dr. Rocconi said. “Thus, we must develop strategies to enhance minority participation in trials to eliminate the disparity gap.”

HPV-related cancer rates affect vaccine uptake in Alabama, study says

USA Health researchers studying human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination rates in Alabama have made a surprising discovery: Counties with higher rates of HPV-related cancers also showed higher HPV vaccination rates, according to research presented at the Society of Gynecologic Oncology’s Annual Meeting on Women’s Cancer.

“It was exactly the opposite of what we expected,” said Dr. Jennifer Young Pierce, who heads Cancer Control and Prevention at USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute. “We found that the higher the rate of cancer in the county, the higher the rate of vaccination.”

The research was one of 12 studies accepted for oral or poster presentations at the national meeting.

The study sought to explore the reasons why vaccination rates for HPV vary so widely among counties in Alabama, from 33 percent to 66 percent. Researchers expected to find lower vaccination rates in rural counties with fewer physicians and in counties with low incomes, which would have been consistent with national reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, the data showed little difference in HPV vaccine uptake between urban and rural counties, and between affluent and poor ones. The seven counties with the highest HPV vaccination rates were both rural and low income, Pierce said. “The main takeaway is that perception of high cancer risk overcomes traditional disparities that can affect HPV vaccine uptake.”

Meanwhile, the study also found higher HPV vaccination rates among residents who receive government-funded health care and the highest HPV rates in some counties that have no pediatricians.

The HPV vaccine protects against a variety of cancers in men and women, including cervical, vulvar, vaginal, penile, anal and head and neck. The vaccine is recommended for boys and girls ages 11-12, with catch-up to age 26.

Authors on the study included Pierce, Macy Juel Vickers, Chelsea Green, Dr. Jennifer M. Scalici and Dr. Casey L. Daniel.

USA Health welcomes urologist Dr. Christopher Keel

Dr. Christopher Keel recently joined USA Health as a urologist. He also serves as an adjunct assistant professor of surgery at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine.

Dr. Keel earned his medical degree from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He completed an internship in general surgery and his residency training in urology at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans.

He is board certified by the American Board of Urology and is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons.

Dr. Keel is accepting new patients at USA Health University Urology, located at 3290 Dauphin St. in Suite 301.

He also sees patients on Thursdays at the USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute Kilborn Clinic, located at 1047 Fairhope Ave. in Fairhope.

To make an appointment with Dr. Keel, call (251) 660-5930.