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What increases my risk for head and neck cancers?

The following factors increase your risk of head and neck cancer:
  • Tobacco use is a primary risk factor for head and neck cancer. This includes smoking (cigarettes, cigars, and pipes), as well as snuff and chewing tobacco.
  • Alcohol, plus tobacco use, dramatically increases your risk of head and neck cancer.
  • Studies have shown that heavy smoking, drinking, and snuff chewing are the main causes of head and neck cancers.
  • The rate of head and neck cancer is more than twice as high in men as in women.
  • Men who are older than 50 have the highest rate for head and neck cancer.
Other factors that may contribute include:
  • Poor-fitting dentures
  • Exposure to cancer-causing materials in the workplace (such as asbestos and mines)
  • Poor diet
  • Weakened immune system
  • HPV (human papilloma virus) - transferred by sexual contact
  • Genetic syndromes
  • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)

Your risk of developing a head and neck cancer is primarily increased by the use of tobacco (both chewing and smoking) or alcohol. At least 85 percent of individuals who develop head and neck cancer have used tobacco or excessive alcohol or both. Your risk is highest if you have used both. You also have an increased risk of developing head and neck cancers if you are a man and greater than 50 years old. Other risk factors that may increase your risk are previous radiation therapy to your head or neck, excessive exposure to sunlight (lip cancer), poor oral hygiene (mouth and throat cancer), excessive chewing of betel quid (a blend of materials commonly chewed in India), wood and nickel dust exposure (nose and sinus cancer), and asbestos exposure (larynx cancer). Infection with the Epstein Barr virus may increase your risk of developing cancer of the nasopharynx (the upper part of the throat located behind the nose), especially if you are of Asian descent. Infection with human papilloma virus may increase your risk of cancer of the mouth or throat.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.