Head and neck cancers

Cancer risk

Head and neck cancers

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Even if you have already been treated for cancer, reducing your risk factors may lower the chance of your cancer coming back.

You might also want to talk to your family members about reducing their cancer risk.

What are risk factors?

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting cancer. 

Having a risk factor doesn't mean you will definitely develop cancer but it means you are more likely to get it than someone without the risk factor. For example, people who smoke cigarettes are much more likely to get lung cancer than those who don’t.

Head and neck cancer risk factors

Some risk factors can’t be changed, like your age or family background. Other risk factors, like smoking, are called lifestyle risk factors. These are factors that you can change.

Risk factors for head and neck cancers include:

  • smoking
  • drinking alcohol
  • viruses – exposure to the human papilloma virus (HPV) and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)
  • exposure to some chemicals e.g. asbestos, wood dust
  • chewing tobacco or betel nut
  • sun (UV) exposure
  • lowered immunity
  • age – head and neck cancers are more common in people 40 years and older
  • sex – more males than females develop head and neck cancers
  • family history – if a direct relative (mother, father, brother or sister) has had a head and neck cancer, this increases your risk
  • nationality – some types of head and neck cancers occur more often in people from Southern China and South-East Asia.

Reducing your cancer risk

Improving your lifestyle is an important way to lower your chance of developing cancer. Taking care of yourself in this way can also have other positive effects on your health.

Things you can do include:

  • eating a healthy, well balanced diet
  • staying active and exercising regularly
  • don’t smoke
  • limiting how much alcohol you drink
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • protecting your skin from too much sun.

Where to get help

There are people you can talk to for more information or support.

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