Cancers that are known collectively as head and neck cancers usually begin in the cells that line the moist, mucosal surfaces inside the head and neck (for example, inside the mouth, the nose, and the throat).
Alcohol and tobacco use (including smokeless tobacco, sometimes called “chewing tobacco” or “snuff”) are the two most important risk factors for head and neck cancers, especially cancers of the oral cavity, oropharynx, hypopharynx, and larynx. At least 75% of head and neck cancers are caused by tobacco and alcohol use.
People who use both tobacco and alcohol are at greater risk of developing these cancers than people who use either tobacco or alcohol alone.Infection with cancer-causing types of human papillomavirus (HPV), especially HPV type 16, is a risk factor for some types of head and neck cancers, particularly oropharyngeal cancers that involve the tonsils or the base of the tongue. In the United States, the incidence of oropharyngeal cancers caused by HPV infection is increasing, while the incidence of oropharyngeal cancers related to other causes is falling.
Head and neck cancers account for approximately 4% of all cancers in the United States. These cancers are more than twice as common among men as they are among women. Head and neck cancers are also diagnosed more often among people over age 50 than they are among younger people.
Researchers estimated that more than 65,000 men and women in this country would be diagnosed with head and neck cancers in 2017.