Head and neck cancer causes

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Maneesha Nandimandalam, M.B.B.S.[2]

Head and Neck cancer Microchapters

Patient Information



Brain tumor
Oral cancer
Nasopharyngeal cancer
Hypopharyngeal cancer
Glomus tumor
Salivary gland tumor
Laryngeal cancer
Thyroid cancer
Parathyroid cancer
Esophageal cancer


Differential diagnosis

Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [3]



  • Alcohol and tobacco are likely synergistic in causing cancer of the head and neck.[1]
  • Smokeless tobacco is an etiologic agent for oral and pharyngeal cancers.[2]
  • Cigar smoking is an important risk factor for oral cancers as well.[3]
  • Other potential environmental carcinogens include marijuana and occupational exposures such as nickel refining, exposure to textile fibers, and woodworking. Cigarette smokers have a lifetime increased risk for head and neck cancers that is 5- to 25-fold increased over the general population.[4]
  • Some head and neck cancers may have a viral etiology.[5] The DNA of human papillomavirus has been detected in the tissue of oral and tonsil cancers, and may predispose to oral cancer in the absence of tobacco and alcohol use. Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection is associated with nasopharyngeal cancer.[5]
  • Nasopharyngeal cancer occurs endemically in some countries of the Mediterranean and Asiat, where EBV antibody titers can be measured to screen high-risk populations.[5]
  • Nasopharyngeal cancer has also been associated with consumption of salted fish, which may contain high levels of nitrites.


  1. Murata M, Takayama K, Choi B, Pak A (1996). "A nested case-control study on alcohol drinking, tobacco smoking, and cancer". Cancer Detect Prev. 20 (6): 557–65. PMID 8939341.
  2. Winn D. "Smokeless tobacco and aerodigestive tract cancers: recent research directions". Adv Exp Med Biol. 320: 39–46. PMID 1442283.
  3. Iribarren C, Tekawa I, Sidney S, Friedman G (1999). "Effect of cigar smoking on the risk of cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cancer in men". N Engl J Med. 340 (23): 1773–80. PMID 10362820.
  4. Andre K, Schraub S, Mercier M, Bontemps P (1995). "Role of alcohol and tobacco in the aetiology of head and neck cancer: a case-control study in the Doubs region of France". Eur J Cancer B Oral Oncol. 31B (5): 301–9. PMID 8704646.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Everett E. Vokes (2006). "Head and Neck Cancer". Head and Neck Cancer. Armenian Health Network, Health.am. Retrieved 2007-09-25. Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)