The overall risk factors of any head and neck cancer depends on the type of cancer. Certain risk factors are genetic and cannot be changed, while other risk factors can be reduced or eliminated with lifestyle modifications.
It is important to understand that a risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of getting a certain cancer. If you have a risk factor, it does not mean that you will get cancer of the head and neck region.
Most head and neck cancers develop after prolonged exposure to a risk factor, while other cancers have no known associated risk factors.
Tobacco and Alcohol Use
Excessive alcohol and tobacco (smoking and chewing tobacco) use greatly increases your chance of getting head and neck cancer, especially cancer of the throat, mouth, and larynx (voice box). Men are two to three times more likely than women to develop a head or neck cancer because they tend to use tobacco and alcohol products more often and in greater amounts.
Exposure to Radiation, including UV (Ultraviolet) Radiation
People who spend a lot of time in the sun without the use of sunscreen or other UV protection are at a greater risk for developing skin cancers of the head and neck region. Exposure to other forms of radiation, such as diagnostic x-rays or radiation therapy, can increase the risk of developing cancer of the skin, salivary glands, and the thyroid.
Working in certain industries that cause long-term exposure to occupational inhalants, such as asbestos, wood dust, and smoke can put you at an increased risk for developing head and neck cancer.
The development of certain head and neck cancers has been linked to the human papilloma virus (HPV) and the Epstein-Barr virus.