Head and Neck Cancer*

Lifestyle choices are linked to rises in head and neck cancer

Head and neck cancer can be extremely difficult for patients to deal with. It affects visible areas of the body and activities that help define who we are. By impacting eating, drinking and speaking, it attacks the cornerstones of social life. 

Head and neck cancers occur in the epithelial cells of tissues or certain organs in the head and neck region. More than 90% of these cancers begin in the flat cells that line surfaces of the mouth, nose and throat. [1] These are the squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck, or SCCHN. 

In 2018, it is estimated that there were more than 650,000 new cases of head and neck cancer diagnosed and 330,000 people died as a result of the disease. [2] Cancers of the oral cavity, throat (pharynx) and voice box (larynx) account for almost five percent of all malignancies. [3]

In addition to age and infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), risk factors include lifestyle choices such as smoking and high consumption of alcohol. [4] Patients often ignore initial symptoms for a long time. [5] These range from persistent sore throat or nosebleeds to voice changes, earache or red and white patches in the mouth. [6]

Treatment depends on the stage and location of the disease as well as the overall health of the patient. Doctors often recommend a combination of different treatment types, for example, surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy. [7]


[1] Specenier P et al. Biol: Targets & Therapy 2013:7; 77-90.

[2] Bray F, et al. (2018). Global cancer statistics 2018: GLOBOCAN estimates of incidence and mortality worldwide for 36 cancers in 185 countries. CA Cancer J Clin. 68(6):394–424.

[3] Ferlay J, et al. Int J Cancer 2015;127:2893-917.

[4]  American Society of Clinical Oncology - Head and Neck Cancer: Risk Factors and Prevention. Available at:https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/head-and-neck-cancer/risk-factors-and-prevention. Last access March 2019.

[5] Christophe V et al. BMJ Open 2014; 4e005286.

[6] National Cancer Institute. Head & Neck Cancers. Available at www.cancer.gov. Last access April 2019.

[7] American Society of Clinical Oncology - Headand Neck Cancer Treatment Options. Available athttps://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/head-and-neck-cancer/treatment-options.Last access March 2019.

* Treatments for this type of cancer are not available in the US and Canada.