Head and neck cancer: What increases your risk, prevention tips!

The main factors that increase the risk of head and neck cancers are smoking and alcohol consumption.

Zee Media Bureau/Salome Phelamei

New Delhi: Head and neck cancer is a group of cancers that start developing in or around the throat, larynx, nose, sinuses, salivary glands and mouth. These cancers are more common in men and in the elderly.

Health experts said that head and neck cancers account for more than 5.5 lakh of the total 8 lakh cancer cases diagnosed in India every year, putting the country in the sixth place worldwide.


Watch out for these symptoms of head and neck cancers

People with head and neck cancer may develop the following signs and symptoms -

  • Pain in the mouth or trouble swallowing
  • A lump or sore that does not heal
  • Swelling in the mouth or jaw
  • Persistent sore throat
  • Red or white patches on your gums, tongue or mouth
  • Facial swelling
  • Trouble breathing
  • Blood in the saliva or phlegm
  • Lossening of teeth
  • Change in the voice
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue

Risk factors

The main factors that increase the risk of head and neck cancers are smoking and alcohol consumption. Other risk factors include - paan (betel quid), certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV), radiation exposure, prolonged sun exposure, occupational exposure, Epstein-Barr virus infection, poor oral hygiene, age – people over the age of 40, race, etc.


Consumption of certain preserved or salted foods during childhood is also a risk factor for nasopharyngeal cancer.

Genetics and sex play a role in cancer risk. But, knowing the factors that make you susceptible to cancer and taking steps can help you in the long-term.

How can head and neck cancer be prevented?

The most effective prevention strategy for head and neck cancer is not using tobacco or alcohol.


Even for people who have been smoking for years, quitting all tobacco products is the most crucial thing a person can do to reduce their risk. Other steps that can help you lower your risk of developing head and neck cancer include:

  • Eating a healthy diet consisting of fruit and vegetables. Fruit and vegetables are a great source of fibre, vitamins, minerals and may protect against cancer of the bowel, oesophagus and stomach. Fruit may also protect against lung cancer.
  • Avoiding long sun exposure and using sunscreen regularly, including lip balm with an adequate sun protection factor (SPF).
  • Avoiding multiple sexual partners to reduce your risk of HPV infection. Having many partners increases the risk of HPV infection.
  • Not going back to smoking or drinking after treatment.
  • Maintaining a good oral hygiene, including keeping your dentures in top shape.

Besides, regular dental examinations may identify pre-cancerous lesions in the oral cavity. Oral, head and neck cancers, when diagnosed early, can be treated more easily and the chances of survival increase enormously.