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UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center

Two risk factors greatly increase the risk of head and neck cancer:

  • Use of tobacco (including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco and snuff) is the single, largest risk factor for head and neck cancer.
  • Frequent and heavy consumption of alcohol.

Other risk factors include:

  • Prolonged sun exposure: This is especially linked to cancer in the lip area (as well as skin cancers of the head and neck and other chronically sun-exposed areas such as the hands).
  • Gender: Men are two to three times more likely than women to develop head and neck cancer. However, the rate of head and neck cancer in women has been rising for several decades.
  • Race: African Americans are more likely than Caucasions to develop certain types of cancer of the head and neck.
  • Poor oral hygiene: Poor oral hygiene has been suggested to increase the risk of head and neck cancer.
  • Occupational inhalants: Exposure to asbestos, wood dust, paint fumes and certain chemicals may increase a person’s risk of head and neck cancer.
  • Poor nutrition: A diet low in A and B vitamins can raise a person’s risk of head and neck cancer.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and laryngopharyngeal reflux disease (LPRD): Reflux of stomach acid into the upper airway and throat may lead to head and neck cancer.
  • Weakened immune system: A weakened immune system can raise a person’s risk of head and neck cancer.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV): Exposure to this virus may be a risk factor for head and neck cancer.
  • Exposure to second-hand smoke: Exposure to second-hand smoke may be a risk factor for head and neck cancer.
Last updated: 5/26/2010 2:39:42 PM