Head and Neck Cancers

Premier Health providers answer frequently asked questions about the diagnosis and treatment of common head and neck cancers.

Who is at risk for head and neck cancers?

The classic risk factor for head and neck cancer includes patients who have a significant history of smoking and drinking, with smoking being the number one risk factor. Those who smoke half a pack or a pack or more a day for 20-plus years are at higher risk. Those who abuse alcohol or have a high alcohol intake have the second highest risk. Combining smoke and drinking has an additive effect. For example, when you smoke and drink at the same time, it's not just twice as bad, it's more like four times or more as bad by risking mucosal changes to tissues. This begins a cancerous march from abnormal cells, to dysplasia, to fully invasive squamous cell cancer.

Additionally, there are certain types of behaviors that we see connected to human papillomavirus (HPV), such as oral sex, which creates exposure. It could be an exposure from 30 years ago, then the virus lays dormant, and then all of a sudden it starts interfering with cell division and brings about atypical cancerous cells, and then it progresses.

Source: Stewart I. Adam, III, MD, Premier ENT Associates