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What causes oropharyngeal cancer?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Oropharyngeal cancer occurs when the cells in the oropharynx start to grow and divide more quickly than normal cells. Smoking tobacco is one risk factor for this type of cancer because exposure to the smoke may kill some of the cells that line the oropharynx, necessitating cell growth and division to replace dead cells. As the cells quickly grow and divide, some may develop DNA changes, or mutations. These mutations may cause irregular cell growth and division, resulting in the development of cancer.

While DNA changes can occur in any population of dividing cells, tobacco smoke contains carcinogens, substances which make these DNA changes more likely. Thus, tobacco smoke promotes the development of cancer in at least two ways.

Additionally, human papilloma virus infection can lead to increased cell growth and division and the subsequent development of oropharyngeal cancer.

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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.