Causes & Risk Factors

Although researchers aren’t clear about what causes head and neck cancers, they have found several factors that might affect a person’s risk of getting the cancers:

  • Tobacco: Tobacco use is the largest risk factor. Researchers estimate that 70% to 80% of head and neck cancers are linked to tobacco use.
  • Alcohol: Frequent and heavy alcohol consumption raises the risk of developing cancer in the mouth, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus.
  • Sun exposure: This is linked to cancer in the lip area and skin cancer of the head and neck.
  • Gender: Men are two to three times more likely than women to develop head and neck cancers.
  • Age: People over the age of 40 are at higher risk for head and neck cancers.
  • History of head and neck cancer: People who have previously had some type of head and neck cancer have a higher chance of developing another head and neck cancer in the future.
  • Poor nutrition: A diet low in vitamins A and B may raise a person’s risk.
  • Poor oral and dental hygiene: Poor care of the mouth and teeth may increase a person’s risk.
  • Chemical exposure: Inhaling asbestos, wood dust, paint fumes, and certain chemicals may increase a person’s risk of head and neck cancers.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV): Research shows that infection with HPV is a risk factor.
  • Epstein-Barr virus (EBV): Exposure to EBV plays a role in the development of nasopharyngeal cancer.
  • Marijuana: Research shows that people who have used marijuana may be at higher risk for head and neck cancers.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and laryngopharyngeal reflux disease (LPRD): Reflux of stomach acid into the upper airway and throat may also increase risk.
  • Radiation exposure: This is associated with salivary gland cancer.

When to See a Doctor

If you have any continual signs or symptoms of head and neck cancers, make an appointment with your doctor right away. Also, make an appointment if you contain any of the risk factors associated with the cancers.

Our Cancer Services

Depending on the type of cancer and how far it has spread, BASS Cancer Center and the BASS Medical Group offers a wide range of treatment options, including surgery, radiation therapy, and systemic therapies.   

Our state-of-the-art cancer center features a full-service medical oncology clinic, including infusion suite, multiple exam rooms, and a PET/CT scanner. We also provide the most technologically advanced radiation oncology treatment in California. Our cancer experts use an Elekta VersaHD CT-Guided linear accelerator with Visionrt’s AlignRT Surface Guided technology (SGRT) and an MR-Guided Linear Accelerator (ViewRay MRIdian).

The VersaHD and MRIdian augment each platform’s capabilities and give the patient and BASS physician an unprecedented ability to tailor a radiotherapy treatment course best fit for each person’s case. Our AlignRT SGRT platform utilizes innovative optical technology to accurately track a patient’s position before and during treatment without exposing them to any additional radiation (commonly needed by other radiotherapy platforms for maintaining setup). Additionally, SGRT allows some patients the choice to avoid permanent marks on their bodies.