Normally, cells grow and multiply only when they are needed. Cancer occurs when cells grow unchecked and are able to invade other parts of the body. Cancer can develop in the head and neck, just as it can form elsewhere in the body. However, head and neck cancers are relatively rare. They make up only about 6 percent of all cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.
There are several cancers of the head and neck exist, including:
- Thyroid cancer: This cancer occurs in the thyroid gland in the neck.
- Oral cancer: This type of cancer can involve the lips, gums, lining of the cheeks, and roof of the mouth.Hypopharyngeal cancer: This cancer affects the bottom part of the pharynx (throat).
- Oropharyngeal cancer: This cancer forms in the middle of the throat (pharynx) behind the mouth. The area affected may include the soft palate, side and back walls of the throat, and tonsils.
- Laryngeal cancer: This cancer affects the voice box (larynx), which contains the vocal cords.
- Salivary gland cancer: This is a rare cancer that forms in the glands that release saliva.
- Nasopharyngeal cancer: This cancer develops in the back of the nose, toward the base of the skull.
What Causes Cancer of the Head and Neck?
While no one knows what causes cancer, research indicates using tobacco and drinking alcohol excessively can cause damage to cells that may trigger them to become cancerous. Plus, some people may inherit genetic differences that make them more likely to develop cancers of the head and neck.
What are the Risk Factors For Head and Neck Cancers?
The following list of risk factors increase the likelihood that you will develop cancer of the head or neck:
- A diet low in fruits and vegetables
- Excess alcohol use
- Use of chewing tobacco
- Exposure to certain industrial chemicals
- Exposure to radiation in the head and neck
- Infection with the Epstein-Barr virus (risk for nasopharyngeal cancer)
- Infection with human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Male gender
- Age 65 and older
- Prolonged exposure to sunlight (risk for lip and skin cancer)