Head and neck carcinoma is one of the most common cancers in different parts of the world, with different risk factors contributing to its spread. These risk factors can significantly increase a person's chances of getting head and neck cancer.
Also, possessing relevant knowledge about these factors can assist a person in lowering their chances of getting cancer, thereby playing a major role in head and neck cancer prevention.
The common head and neck cancer risk factors include tobacco consumption, excess alcohol consumption, chronic HPV infection, and genetic factors, among others. However, not every person with these risk factors is diagnosed with head and neck cancer, but there are increased chances.
There are multiple risk factors for head and neck cancer, and having these risk factors can increase one’s chances of developing head and neck cancer. The 12 common head and neck cancer risk factors include:
Tobacco consumption includes smoking cigars, cigarettes, pipes, and intoxicating substances. Tobacco use is known to be one of the most significant head and neck cancer risk factors. Multiple studies have reported that people who consume tobacco have a higher risk of getting cancer of the head and neck, especially mouth cancer, as compared to others who do not.
Alcohol consumption in excess also increases an individual’s head and neck cancer risk. Alcohol possesses different harmful substances that are derived from fermentation. These substances are carcinogenic for humans as they enable the cells present in the mouth and throat to absorb cancer-causing chemicals easily.
Due to this reason, different harmful particles, such as those found in cigarettes, can easily find their way to the mouth and throat cells, causing cancer.
Human papillomavirus infection is another important factor that can increase head and neck cancer risk. HPV infections cause the body's cells to undergo significant changes. However, if these cells are not treated at a suitable time, they can convert into cancerous cells.
In fact, as per experts, HPV plays a substantial role in causing head and neck carcinomas, especially oropharyngeal cancer.
EBV, or Epstein-Barr infection, can also increase one’s head and neck cancer risk. Though the EBV virus usually remains in a latent state without leading to any major symptoms, once active, it can easily convert normal cells into malignant ones.
Different studies have shown that cancers of the head and neck are more common among men than women. This is regardless of whether women are drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco.
Poor diet is also one of the head and neck cancer risk factors. A diet that is extremely low in vitamins A and B can substantially increase a person's risk, in addition to having an excess of salt-cured meat. A diet devoid of nutrition can lead to metabolic abnormalities, which again increase the chances of getting cancer.
Poor oral health also plays an important role in increasing one’s head and neck cancer risk. Studies have revealed that people with poor oral hygiene are more likely to suffer from oral infections, increasing their chances of getting head cancer.
When the oral tissues are regularly exposed to acid reflux, it can lead to cell damage. This damage, if left untreated, can lead to pharyngeal and laryngeal cancer over time.
Working in close proximity to cancer-causing substances in the environment, such as paint fumes, wood dust, harmful chemicals, and asbestos, can also be one of the major risk factors for head and neck cancer.
Radiation therapy, or ionizing radiation, can cause substantial damage to the cell's DNA. Thus, a history of radiation therapy in the head and neck region increases the chances of getting this cancer.
Experts suggest that people who consume illicit drugs are at a higher risk of getting cancer of the neck in addition to alcohol usage.
A person with a weakened immune system is also a major risk factor for causing head and neck carcinoma.
There are no known ways to completely prevent head and neck cancer. However, there are some head and neck cancer prevention measures that can help reduce one’s risk of developing head and neck cancer. The following are some of the important head and neck cancer prevention tips that one can follow to reduce their risk of developing this disease:
Quitting tobacco is one of the most important head and neck cancer prevention measures. The risk of developing head and neck cancer is significantly lower among those who do not consume tobacco and those who have quit as compared to those who do.
Another significant head cancer prevention tip would be to limit the use of alcohol.
Take extra effort to protect yourself against HPV, as it is one of the main reasons for causing oral cancer. It is advisable to talk to your doctor about taking the HPV vaccination.
Exposure to the sun and its harmful rays for long periods of time can also lead to the growth of cancerous squamous cells.
As poor oral hygiene is one of the risk factors for head and neck cancer, it is recommended to get regular dental checkups.
As exposure to harmful substances in the environment can also cause head cancer, it is advisable to wear protective gear while working with them.
Poor oral hygiene contributes to increased throat cancer risk. Many studies have found that poor oral hygiene aids the carcinogenic potential of tobacco and alcohol and thereby increases the risk of throat cancer.
Head and neck cancer risk factors, if taken care of at an early stage, can significantly reduce the chances of acquiring the disease. Thus, it is recommended that you seek advice from your doctor regarding any of the risk factors or symptoms of head and neck cancer symptoms. This would reduce not only the chances of getting cancer but also the recurrence of head and neck cancer.