While currently men are twice as likely as women to develop head and neck cancers, that gap is steadily narrowing as more women take up smoking. These cancers are most often linked to tobacco use - 85% of patients have a history of smoking.
People who drink alcohol and use tobacco face even higher risk. Head and neck cancers are frequently diagnosed late, making them more difficult to treat and cure. Finding the disease early significantly improves chances of beating it.
Symptoms of head, neck or throat cancer include:
- sore in the neck, throat or mouth that doesn't heal
- persistent sore throat
- difficulty swallowing
- change or hoarseness in the voice
- Chronic sinus infection
- Chronic nosebleed
- Unusual bleeding or red or white patches in the mouth
- Swelling in the jaw or under the chin
- Ear pain or ringing
- Trouble breathing, speaking or hearing
How doctors treat the disease depends on where the cancer started, how long it has been there and whether it has spread. Surgery to remove the cancer, as well as chemotherapy and radiation therapy to kill cancer cells, may be used separately or in combination.
Alcohol and Tobacco Use
The most important risk factors for head and neck cancers are alcohol and tobacco use, including chewing tobacco or snuff. These risk factors are particularly important for cancers of the oral cavity, oropharynx, hypopharynx and larynx. At least 75% of head and neck cancers are caused by tobacco and alcohol use.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) is a risk factor for some types of head and neck cancers, particularly oropharyngeal cancer that involves the tonsils or base of the tongue. In the United States, the incidence of oropharyngeal cancers caused by HPV infection is increasing, while the incidence related to other causes is falling.