Head & Neck Cancer Risk Factors
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What Are the Risk Factors for Head and Neck Cancer?
As with many types of cancer, the risk of developing a head and neck cancer may be increased by certain lifestyle behaviors and environmental factors, such as smoking and exposure to carcinogens.
Risk factors for head and neck cancer also depend on the location and type of cancer.
Common Head & Neck Cancer Risk Factors
Tobacco is a risk factor common to all head and neck cancers. The National Cancer Institute reports that 85 percent of people who develop head and neck cancers have a history of tobacco use, particularly smoking. Chewing tobacco is also linked to an increased risk for oral cavity cancer.
Men are three times as likely to develop this type of cancer.
Other head and neck cancer risk factors common to most forms of the disease include:
- Alcohol abuse
- Poor nutrition and vitamin deficiencies
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
- Exposure to high doses of radiation therapy, particularly in the head or neck region
Cancer-Specific Risk Factors for Head & Neck Cancers
Certain factors may be a risk for one type of head and neck cancer and not another.
Some of the specific risk factors by head and neck cancer type include:
- The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), known for causing "mono" in young adults, may be associated with the development of certain cancers, including nasopharyngeal cancer.
- Two inherited genetic syndromes, Fanconi anemia and Dyskeratosis congenita, may greatly increase the likelihood of developing throat and mouth cancers in people at an early age.
- Exposure to sunlight may increase the risk of lip and oral cancer.
NOTE: Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer. Not having risk factors does not mean that you won't get cancer. If you think you may be at risk, you should discuss it with your doctor.
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