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Head and Neck Cancer

Risk Factors for Head and Neck Cancer

Head and Neck Cancer is largely a cancer of behavior.  The most important risk factors for head and neck cancers are:

1. HPV Infection

What you should know - Recent studies suggest that HPV may account for much as 70 to 80 percent of head and neck cancers.1 2

2. Alcohol and Tobacco use (including smokeless tobacco, sometimes called "chewing tobacco" or "snuff")

What you should know - People who use both tobacco and alcohol are at greater risk for developing these cancers than people who use either tobacco or alcohol alone.


Other risk factors for cancers of the head and neck include the following:

People who are at risk for head and neck cancers should talk with their doctor about ways they can reduce their risk. They should also discuss how often to have checkups.


1The epidemic of HPV-associated oropharyngeal cancer is here: is it time to change our treatment paradigms?, AU Sturgis EM, Ang KK J Natl Compr Canc Netw. 2011;9(6):665.

2Human papillomavirus and rising oropharyngeal cancer incidence in the United States., Chaturvedi AK, Engels EA, Pfeiffer RM, Hernandez BY, Xiao W, Kim E, Jiang B, Goodman MT, Sibug-Saber M, Cozen W, Liu L, Lynch CF, Wentzensen N, Jordan RC, Altekruse S, Anderson WF, Rosenberg PS, Gillison ML, J Clin Oncol. 2011;29(32):4294.

National Cancer Institute - Head and Neck Cancer: Questions and Answers

More articles about Head and Neck Cancer

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Last Reviewed: Mar 06, 2013

Professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University