Risk factors influence the chance of developing cancer (head and neck cancer) among individuals, but individuals with no risk factors also develop cancer. The common risk factors for head and neck cancer are tobacco and alcohol. 70% to 80% of head and neck cancers are caused by tobacco usage. Additionally, tobacco usage increases a person’s chance of disease and affects the disease prognosis and recovery. Frequent consumption of alcohol increases a person’s risk of developing head and neck cancers.
Other important factors that increase the risk of head and neck cancer include poor oral and dental hygiene, missing teeth, prolonged sun exposure, excessive consumption of junk food, unhealthy diet, occupational or environmental inhalants or factors, weak immune system, HPV or Human papillomavirus, radiation exposure, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection, age (people with above 40 years of age), gender (common in men than women), laryngopharyngeal reflux disease (LPRD) and Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and history of head and neck cancer.
Risk Factors Associated with Head and Neck Cancer
Risk factors refer to the factors that can increase a person’s chance or probability of developing cancer or any illness. They are not the direct cause of cancer or disease but can influence its development. We can see that some people with no risk of head and neck cancers develop the disease, whereas some others with several risk factors don’t develop. People should closely watch themselves and understand the factors that can be risky for their health and well-being, in addition to a good understanding of the factors that can be risky and communicating it on time with your care provider would help you make better healthcare choices and an informed, comfortable lifestyle.
Substances that increase risk factors
The two substances that primarily increase a person’s risk of developing head and neck cancers are:
- Tobacco: tobacco use indicates smoking cigars, chewing paan, betel leaves and tobacco, using drugs like marijuana, it is also one of the prominent factors causing head and neck cancers. Studies reveal that 70% to 80% of head and neck cancers are associated with tobacco usage 1, moreover, tobacco usage increases a person’s chance of disease and affects the disease prognosis and recovery. Second-hand smoke once again increases the chance of head and neck cancers.
- Alcohol: frequent consumption of alcohol increases a person’s risk of developing head and neck cancers and can also cause cancerous growth in the mouth, larynx, and oesophagus.
Head and neck cancers resulting from tobacco and alcohol consumption can occur in any part of the head or neck region- oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, salivary gland etc. if a person uses both alcohol and tobacco, then their risk of head and neck cancer is even more.
Other responsible factors
Other important factors that increase a person’s risk of developing head and neck cancers include 2:
- Poor oral and dental hygiene, missing teeth: poor care of the teeth and mouth can increase a person’s neck and head cancers.
- Prolonged sun exposure: prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause skin cancer or cancer in or around the lip area.
- Excessive consumption of junk food: limitless consumption of highly salted, preserved foods, especially during childhood, increases a person’s risk of head and neck cancers. Consumption of maté, a tea-like beverage, also increases the risk.
- Unhealthy diet: poor nutrition can raise a person’s head and neck cancers moreover, a diet low in vitamins A and B can increase the risk.
- Occupational or environmental inhalants or factors: Exposure to substances like nickel dust, wood dust, asbestos, paint fumes, formaldehyde, certain synthetic fibres, which forms a part of occupational hazards, can increase a person’s risk of head and neck cancer.
- A weak immune system can increase a person’s chance of contracting head and neck cancer and other severe diseases.
- HPV or Human papillomavirus: researches show that people with HPV infections are very likely to develop head and neck cancers. HPV, a sexually transmitted disease. The virus can be of different types called strains. Some strains are so potent and cause various types of cancers. Studies reveal that HPV vaccines can help prevent people from developing certain cancers.
- Radiation exposure: radiation treatments can increase head and neck tumours. Radiation exposure is associated with salivary gland cancers.
- Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection: exposure to Epstein-Barr virus can increase a person’s chance of developing nasopharyngeal cancer. EBV is the virus that causes mono or mononucleosis.
- Age: people above 40 years of age are at a higher risk of developing head and neck cancer.
- Gender: head and neck cancers are more common in men than women. Men are two to three times more likely to develop these cancers than women. But latest studies reveal an increase in head and neck cancer cases among women.
- Laryngopharyngeal reflux disease (LPRD) and Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Reflux of stomach acid into the throat and upper airway may be linked with head and neck cancers.
- History of head and neck cancer: people who have had any head and neck cancer condition in the past is at a higher risk of developing the disease again. Some head and neck cancers can be notorious in terms of recurrence.
- 1.Cogliano VJ, Baan R, Straif K, et al. Preventable Exposures Associated With Human Cancers. JNCI Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Published online December 12, 2011:1827-1839. doi:10.1093/jnci/djr483
- 2.Dhull AK, Atri R, Dhankhar R, Chauhan AK, Kaushal V. Major Risk Factors in Head and Neck Cancer: A Retrospective Analysis of 12-Year Experiences. World J Oncol. Published online 2018:80-84. doi:10.14740/wjon1104w