Accounting for about 5% of all cancers, head and neck cancers are low in the top-ten of all diagnosed cases. These are also some of the most preventable cancers, frequently due to lifestyle choices. Risk factors for these cancers are generally easy to identify.
Whenever you notice changes to your head and neck, visiting Sheridan Ear, Nose & Throat is a smart choice. Otolaryngologist Dr. Scott Bateman offers over two decades of innovative experience. Put his expertise to work for you by scheduling a consultation now.
Head and neck cancers
Most head and neck cancers start in the mucus surfaces that line your mouth, throat, and nasal passages. These are called squamous cell carcinomas. While there are other types of cancer that affect these areas, they occur much less frequently. Cancers of the brain, skin, eyes, esophagus, and thyroid gland are generally not considered head and neck cancers.
Common risk factors
The most common causes for head and neck cancers, particularly of the mouth, lower pharynx, and larynx, are tobacco and alcohol use, or a combination of both. Tobacco risk factors include:
- Smoking cigarettes
- Using smokeless tobacco (chewing tobacco and snuff)
- Exposure to secondhand smoke
Drinking alcohol in any quantity raises the risk of head and neck cancers, but the risk increases dramatically with heavy and/or frequent alcohol use. Combining tobacco and alcohol consumption also increases your risk, though it’s estimated that tobacco use alone is responsible for up to 80% of head and neck cancers.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is another risk factor for head and neck cancers, usually starting in the middle pharynx. The most quickly increasing type of head and neck cancer is HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer.
Other causes of head and neck cancers
There are other contributors to head and neck cancer, though these are far less common than tobacco and alcohol use. Perhaps next in line is radiation exposure. Ironically, radiation treatments for other cancers can increase the risk of additional carcinomas, but even a history of head X-rays can be a factor.
Occupational exposure is another risk factor. Industrial settings can create a wide range of airborne particles and substances that could be harmful to many aspects of your health. Wood dust, nickel dust, and formaldehyde are known to increase the risk of head and neck cancers, while synthetic fibers are suspected, but not statistically proven, as a potential risk. Asbestos, responsible for mesothelioma in the lungs, may also be a contributor to head and neck cancers.
Epstein-Barr viral infection, Chinese ancestry, age, and genetic history may all play a role in the development of cancers throughout the mouth, nose, and throat.
Many of these cancers are slow to develop. As with many cancers, early detection usually leads to a better prognosis. If you have one or more risk factors working against you, consider an examination with Dr. Bateman and the team at Sheridan Ear, Nose & Throat, even if you have no symptoms.
Call the office directly at 307-672-0290, or use the appointment request link on this page to schedule your session today.