Head and Neck Cancers: Reducing Your Risk

free head and neck cancer screening
This page was originally published February 12, 2018 and updated April 1, 2024.

Head and neck cancers typically begin in the cells that line surfaces of areas inside of the mouth (oral cavity), nose, and throat. According to the American Cancer Society Facts and Figures, head and neck cancers represented 4% of all cancers diagnosed in the United States in 2017. Men are twice as likely to be diagnosed with head and neck cancers and those over the age of 50 are at greater risk.

Factors for Head and Neck Cancers

Two of the most important factors for cancers of the head and neck are the use of tobacco, (whether cigarettes or smokeless), and alcohol. Patients who use both alcohol and tobacco are at even greater risk of developing this type of cancer than those who do either alone. In fact, researchers believe this combination accounts for about 75% of all diagnoses.

The National Cancer Institute outlines other factors that increase the risk of developing head and neck cancers:

• Epstein-Barr Virus Infection
• Genetics
• HPV infection
• Occupational exposure
• Poor oral hygiene
• Preserved and salted foods
• Radiation exposure

Symptoms of Head and Neck Cancer

Symptoms of head and neck cancer can include a persistent sore throat, trouble swallowing, hoarseness, or unexplained pain, swelling or bleeding. While these can also be symptoms of other less serious illness or disease, if you are concerned it’s always best to see a medical professional.

Reducing the Risk

One of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of any of these cancers is to quit smoking. For free help, you can call the National NCI Quitline (877) 448-7848. This program by the National Cancer Institute provides telephone counseling by trained smoking cessation counselors at no cost to you. Services are available in both English and Spanish, Monday through Friday 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, EST.

For more free help to quit smoking, see the resources we’ve listed here.

Head and Neck Cancer Alliance


The Head and Neck Cancer Alliance, a non-profit patient advocacy organization, provides a wide range of services to people at risk (and those undergoing treatment) for this disease. One key program works to promote awareness, free screenings, and early detection for these cancers. To find out more about this Oral, Head, and Neck Cancer Awareness Program sponsored by the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance, visit their website here: https://www.headandneck.org/ohancaw/. To locate a free head and neck cancer screening site in your area, check out this interactive map: https://headandneck.org/events/map/.

According to researchers at the National Cancer Institute, “Early detection is important because when abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat.”

Screening programs are the key to catching cancer early when treatment options are plentiful and the possibility of a cure is real. Take advantage of the free screening program offered by the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance. Combined with smart lifestyle choices, you can significantly reduce your risk of a late-stage diagnosis of this disease.

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If you (or someone you know) has been diagnosed with cancer and need assistance covering the costs related to care, prescriptions, or household expenses, free help is available. See our links to agencies that provide free financial help for cancer patients.

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  1. This is something not many people talk about. Either way, knowing what to look for and where to get check out is very important. This is valuable information.

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