Head and Neck Cancer Causes, Risk Factors and Prevention

What Causes Head and Neck Cancer?

While there are several factors that could cause this type of cancer, as much as 85% of head and neck cancer cases are linked to tobacco use. Amazingly, your body can reverse most of the genetic damage caused by tobacco once you stop using it.

Head and Neck Cancer Risk Factors

A risk factor is an element of your life that can increase your chance of developing a disease. Although having a risk factor won’t always lead to cancer, it’s important to take steps within your control to reduce your risk.

If you have risk factors, Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center can help. We’re here to support you at any stage of your health care journey.

Risk factors for head and neck cancer include:

  • Tobacco use (cigarettes, cigars, pipes, e-cigarettes/vaping, chewing tobacco)
  • Frequent or heavy alcohol consumption
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infections
  • Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which causes mononucleosis (mono) and stays dormant in the cells of your throat and immune system
  • Being a male (men are two to three times more likely than women)
  • Poor nutrition and vitamin deficiencies
  • Poor oral/dental hygiene
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or acid reflux
  • Exposure to certain chemicals and substances, including asbestos, wood dust and paint fumes
  • Sun exposure
  • Radiation therapy to the head and neck
  • Marijuana use
  • Weakened immune system

How to Prevent Head and Neck Cancer

Although there is no proven way to prevent head and neck cancer, you may be able to lower your risk. Talk to your doctor or schedule an appointment with Banner MD Anderson’s caring team of experts for more information about your personal risk.

To reduce your risk for head and neck cancer:

  • Stop smoking and using tobacco. Banner MD Anderson has tobacco cessation programs to help.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Protect yourself against HPV – practice safe sex and get the HPV vaccine.
  • Wear sunscreen regularly and avoid prolonged sun exposure.
  • Wear protective gear if exposed to chemicals, fumes and dust.
  • Have regular checkups with your dentist.