The Risks of Oral, Head and Neck Cancer

The symptoms are often subtle: A sore in your mouth that doesn’t heal; difficulty in chewing, swallowing or moving your tongue; persistent pain in your mouth; or a feeling that something is caught in your throat. These are just a few signs of oral, head and neck cancer.

Considered the sixth most common cancer in the United States, this disease strikes more than 40,000 individuals each year. It occurs primarily in the nasal cavity, sinuses, lips, mouth, thyroid or salivary glands, throat or voice box. Oral, head and neck cancer is usually discovered in individuals over age 40, and often when the disease is in stage three or four. It accounts for 6 percent of all malignancies in the U.S.

Fortunately, most oral, head and neck cancer can be prevented if individuals at risk adopt a healthier lifestyle. Review these facts and statistics:

  • At least 85 percent of diagnosed cases of oral, head and neck cancer are linked to tobacco use
    • smoking cigarettes is the major cause of most head and neck cancers
    • chewing tobacco often causes mouth cancer
    • individuals who use tobacco and alcohol together are at greater risk of the disease than those who use them alone
  • In the past 10 years, an increasing number of young, nonsmokers with human papillomavirus
    have been diagnosed with this disease
  • An estimated $3.2 billion is spent annually in the U.S. on the treatment of head and neck cancers
  • Thyroid cancer can develop in anyone:
    • family history or exposure to radiation may increase the risk for this disease
    • more common in women than in men
    • one of the least deadly cancers of the head and neck

Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle, limiting consumption of tobacco and alcohol, and scheduling regular checkups with your physician and dental professional are the best solutions to lowering the risk of oral, head and neck cancer and to early diagnosis of the disease.

If you, or someone you know, have been diagnosed with oral, neck or throat cancer, what were the signs or symptoms? What was the treatment process? – Karen Gustin, Ameritas Group


Ameritas Group has established an endowment for oral, head and neck cancer programs at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Dentistry to assist in the research and treatment of this disease.