About Head and Neck Cancer

Symptoms, Conditions, Causes and Risk Factors for Head and Neck Cancer

Cancer can develop in several different areas of the head and neck. Some of the most common types of head and neck cancers include:

Oral Cancer

Oral cancer is the most common type of head and neck cancer. Around 30,000 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed in the United States every year. Oral cancer can begin in the lips, the gums, behind the molars, the inside of the lips and cheeks, the floor and roof of the mouth, the minor salivary glands, and the tongue.

The main risk factors for oral cancer are smoking or chewing tobacco and excessive alcohol use. Other risk factors include being infected with the human papillomavirus and prolonged exposure to sunlight.

Most oral cancers can be treated and cured if diagnosed early.

Laryngeal Cancer

Laryngeal cancer is cancer in the larynx, or voice box. Laryngeal cancer is the second most common type of head and neck cancer, accounting for around 12,000 new cases diagnosed in the United States every year. Most cases of laryngeal cancers occur in men.

The main risk factors for laryngeal cancer are tobacco use and excessive alcohol use. Other risk factors include occupational exposure to wood and metal dusts, asbestos, paint fumes, and other chemical inhalants; a diet low in vitamins A and E; gastroesophageal reflux disease; and being infected with the human papillomavirus. People with aplastic anemia, a blood disorder, have a higher risk of developing laryngeal cancer.

Pharyngeal (Throat) Cancer

Pharyngeal cancer is cancer in the pharynx, or throat. Tumors can develop in the nasopharynx (the upper part of the throat); the oropharynx (the middle of the throat); and the hypopharynx (the bottom of the throat). Around 11,800 new cases of pharyngeal cancer are diagnosed in the United States every year.

The main risk factors for pharyngeal cancer are tobacco use and excessive alcohol use. Other risk factors include occupational exposure to asbestos, wood dust, paint fumes, and other inhalants; being infected with Epstein-Barr virus; being infected with the human papillomavirus; and certain diets.

Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer

Nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers occur in the tissues that line the nasal cavity and the paranasal sinuses. Most cases occur in the maxillary sinuses, the hollow spaces on either side of the nose and below the eyes. Around 2,000 new cases of nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer are diagnosed in the United States every year.

The main risk factor for nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer is exposure to wood and metal dusts, asbestos, paint fumes, and air pollution.

Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer occurs in the thyroid, a gland below the larynx that is part of the endocrine system, which helps regulate metabolism, blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and other functions. Around 62,500 cases of thyroid cancer are diagnosed in the United States every year. Women are three times more likely to develop thyroid cancer than men, and it occurs mostly in adults between the ages of 20 and 55.

The main risk factor for thyroid cancer is exposure to moderate levels of external radiation at a young age, such as radiation in the environment or from prior radiation treatment.

Parathyroid Cancer

Parathyroid cancer occurs in the parathyroid, a gland near the thyroid that helps control levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood.

Most parathyroid tumors are benign. Only around 100 cases of parathyroid cancer are diagnosed in the United States every year.

Risk factors include a family history of parathyroid tumors or a hereditary condition called multiple endocrine neoplasia.

Salivary Gland Cancer

Salivary gland cancer occurs in the salivary glands of the mouth, neck or throat. The majority of salivary gland tumors develop in the parotid gland, the gland located in front of the ears on each side of the face that produces saliva to aid in chewing and digesting food. Salivary gland cancers are rare, accounting for less than 10 percent of all head and neck tumors.

Risk factors can include exposure to radiation, such as from prior radiation treatment; and occupational exposure to asbestos, chemicals, and inhalants.

Learn more about the Head and Neck Cancer Multidisciplinary Clinic