As the name implies, head and neck cancer is a group of cancers that starts within the mouth, nose, throat (pharynx), larynx, sinuses or salivary glands. Head and neck cancers combined are the seventh most common group of cancers in the world and oftentimes considered preventable because making certain lifestyle changes significantly lowers a person’s risk.
- An estimated 66,920 new cases of head and neck cancers will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2023, with estimates of 15,400 deaths expected to result from the diagnosis.
- Head and neck cancers account for 4% of all cancers in the U.S.
- Men are two to three times more likely than women to develop a head or neck cancer because of their greater use of tobacco and alcohol. However, head and neck cancers found in women have been rising for several years.
- The consumption of tobacco (including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and smokeless tobacco) and alcohol are the most common causes of head and neck cancers. Tobacco-induced head and neck cancer is slowly declining globally, in part to decreased use of tobacco.
- The fraction of head and neck cancers due to infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV) or Epstein-Barr virus HPV is rising. Other risk factors for head and neck cancers may include poor oral hygiene, exposure to occupational inhalants (such as asbestos or wood dust), a diet low in vegetables and fruits, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and a weakened immune system.
Source: American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2023; ASCO 2023; GLOBOCAN 2020
Signs and Symptoms
A symptom is a change in the body that a person can see and/or feel. A sign is a change that the doctor sees during an examination or on a laboratory test result. If you have any of the symptoms below, it does not mean you have cancer but you should see your doctor or health care professional so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.
- Painless white patch or red patch in the mouth
- Hoarseness or change in voice
- Sore throat
- Foul mouth odor not explained by hygiene
- Nasal obstruction or persistent nasal congestion
- Painless lump in the mouth or neck
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing or breathing
- Loosening of teeth
- Frequent nosebleed, particularly on one side of the nose
- Hearing loss or ear pain, particularly in one ear
- Blood in saliva or phlegm
- Weight loss or fatigue