For Patients & the Public

General Information about Head and Neck Cancer

The term “head and neck” cancer describes cancer in the mouth, lips, salivary glands, tonsils, throat, nose and accessory sinuses, middle ear, and voice box. This type of cancer is often referred to as oral cancer or mouth and throat cancer. Throughout this section, we will use the term “mouth and throat cancer.”

While some view this cancer as a rarity, 100 new people will be diagnosed with mouth and throat cancer each day in the U.S. Awareness of signs and symptoms of mouth and throat cancer is necessary because, if caught early, there is a much greater chance of survival.

The following section provides patient-friendly information about the risks, prevention, and treatment of mouth and throat cancer.

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Risk Factors for Mouth and Throat Cancer

  • Tobacco: Using tobacco products of any form greatly increases your risk.
  • Alcohol: Excessive alcohol use increases the risk of mouth and throat cancer, especially when used in combination with tobacco products.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV): New studies find that the same kind of HPV that can cause cervical cancer in women is related to some mouth and throat cancers in both men and women.
  • Sun: Excessive sunlight exposure increases teh risk of lip cancer.
  • Gender: Men are twice as likely as women to develop mouth and throat cancer.
  • Age: Most often, mouth and throat cancer develops after 40.

What Can I Do to Prevent Mouth and Throat Cancer?

Most cases of mouth and throat cancer are preventable. The best prevention is to avoid tobacco products and, if you currently use tobacco, quit as soon as possible.

Other ways to prevent mouth and throat cancer include

  • Making regular dental appointments;
  • Limiting alcohol intake;
  • Using a lip balm with an SPF when you go out in the sun;
  • Eating a healthful diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables;
  • Examining your mouth and throat for signs of cancer on a regular basis.