Head and Neck Cancer

Head and Neck Cancer Awareness and Prevention

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Head and neck cancer is associated with a number of risk factors, many of which can be avoided. At UT Southwestern Medical Center, we’re focused on head and neck cancer awareness and prevention. Early detection is key to successful treatment.

Risk Factors

Risk factors for head and neck cancer vary based on the location and type of cancer, and include:

  • Tobacco use: Smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipes or using smokeless tobacco puts people at greater risk for head and neck cancer. These cancers are rare in people who have never used tobacco.
  • Alcohol consumption: Heavy use of alcohol raises a person’s risk of developing head and neck cancer. Using alcohol and tobacco together increases the risk even more.
  • Poor nutrition: A diet low in vitamins A and B can raise the risk of head and neck cancer.
  • Prolonged sun exposure: This factor puts a person at greater risk for skin cancer of the head and neck.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV): HPV is becoming an increasingly common risk factor for some types of head and neck cancer.
  • Poor oral hygiene: Those who don’t take care of their teeth and gums are at an increased risk of head and neck cancer.
  • Epstein-Barr virus: The virus that causes mononucleosis plays a role in the development of some types of head and neck cancer.

Head and Neck Cancer Symptoms

Symptoms of head and neck cancer depend on where the cancer develops and how it spreads. In general, symptoms might include:

  • A lump or swelling in the nose, neck, or throat
  • A sore throat that won’t go away
  • Trouble or pain when swallowing
  • A change or hoarseness in the voice
  • A sore or growth in the mouth
  • Persistent earache

Preventing Head and Neck Cancer

While head and neck cancer might not be completely preventable, people can significantly lower their risk by avoiding risk factors that are within their control. Don’t smoke, don’t abuse alcohol, eat a well-balanced diet, use sunscreen and lip balm regularly, practice protected sex, and maintain good oral hygiene.

Quitting tobacco products decreases the risk of head and neck cancer, even if a person has been smoking or using them for many years. UT Southwestern offers a smoking cessation program to help patients quit in a supportive environment that offers many options and resources at no cost.