Knowing the Facts on Head and Neck Cancer


In 2016, more than 63,000 Americans were diagnosed with cancers of the head and neck – which include cancers of the oral cavity, larynx and pharynx. This is up 20,000 people from 2010. It is estimated that 13,360 deaths (9,940 men and 3,420 women) from head and neck cancer will occur this year.

Oral, head and neck cancer (OHNC) refers to a variety of cancers that develop in the head and neck region, such as:

  • The oral cavity (mouth)
  • The pharynx (throat)
  • Paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity
  • The larynx (voice box)
  • Thyroid and salivary glands
  • The skin of the face and neck
  • The lymph nodes in the neck.

For many years the most significant risk factors for head and neck cancers have been alcohol and tobacco use. While this is still true for about 75 percent of all head and neck cancer cases, infection with a virus called the human papillomavirus (HPV) has recently been identified as a risk factor for a new and rapidly increasing subset of head and neck cancer.

Along with tobacco use and HPV, other risk factors OHNC include:

  • Preserved or salted foods. Consumption of certain preserved or salted foods during childhood is a risk factor for nasopharyngeal cancer.
  • Oral health. Poor oral hygiene and missing teeth may be weak risk factors for cancers of the oral cavity. Use of mouthwash that has a high alcohol content is a possible, but not proven, risk factor for cancers of the oral cavity.
  • Occupational exposure. Occupational exposure to wood dust is a risk factor for nasopharyngeal cancer. Certain industrial exposures, including exposures to asbestos and synthetic fibers, have been associated with cancer of the larynx, but the increase in risk remains controversial. People working in certain jobs in the construction, metal, textile, ceramic, logging and food industries may have an increased risk of cancer of the larynx. Industrial exposure to wood or nickel dust or formaldehyde is a risk factor for cancers of the paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity.
  • Radiation exposure. Radiation to the head and neck, for noncancerous conditions or cancer, is a risk factor for cancer of the salivary glands.
  • Epstein-Barr virus infection (EBV). Infection with the Epstein-Barr virus is a risk factor for nasopharyngeal cancer and cancer of the salivary glands. EBV is one of the most common human viruses and most people get infected with EBV at some point in their lives. It spreads most commonly through bodily fluids, primarily saliva. EBV is the virus that causes infectious mononucleosis and other diseases caused by EBV include Burkitt’s lymphoma and cancers of the nose and throat..
  • Ancestry. Asian ancestry, particularly Chinese ancestry, is a risk factor for nasopharyngeal cancer.
  • Paan (betel quid). Immigrants from Southeast Asia who use paan (betel quid) in the mouth should be aware that this habit has been strongly associated with an increased risk of oral cancer. Betel quid is composed of areca nut, betel leaf and slaked lime with tobacco frequently added.
  • Maté. Consumption of maté, a tea-like beverage habitually consumed by South Americans, has been associated with an increased risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and larynx.

If you start experiencing any of these signs and symptoms, make an appointment with your physician:

  • Red or white patch in the mouth that lasts more than two weeks
  • Change in voice or hoarseness that lasts more than two weeks
  • Sore throat that does not subside
  • Pain or swelling in the mouth or neck that does not subside
  • Lump in the neck
  • Ear pain
  • Difficulty speaking or swallowing
  • Difficulty breathing

Get screened at our upcoming head and neck cancer screening this month:

Head and Neck Cancer Screening
Tuesday, April 25, 5 – 6 p.m.
Spartanburg Ear, Nose and Throat at North Grove Medical Park located at 1330 Boiling Springs Rd., Suite 1400, Spartanburg, SC

Spartanburg ENT physicians in partnership with Gibbs Cancer Center & Research Institute will provide free head and neck cancer screenings. Registration is not required for this free screening. Appointments are not required screenings will be held on a first come first served basis. For questions, call 864-560-6508.

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