Head & Neck Cancers

Head and neck cancers include a wide range of tumors that can affect the soft tissues, glands, organs and other parts of the head and neck. Types of head and neck cancer include:

  • Oral cavity (mouth) — includes lips, gums, cheeks, palate, floor of mouth and tongue.
  • Laryngeal (voice box)
  • Pharyngeal (throat) — includes nasopharyngeal, oropharyngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers
  • Nasal cavity and sinus
  • Thyroid
  • Parathyroid
  • Parotid/Salivary gland
  • Skull base
  • Skin cancers – Includes melanoma, squamous cell of face, ear and scalp 

Head and neck cancer facts

Head and neck cancers account for about 3 percent of all cancers in the United States.

Risk factors

The two strongest risk factors for these cancers are excessive alcohol use and tobacco use. At least 75 percent of head and neck cancers are related to alcohol and tobacco use, and people who drink excessively and use tobacco — whether smoked or chewed — are at even greater risk than those who use either tobacco or alcohol alone.  

Infection with certain forms of the human papilloma virus (HPV) is also a risk factor for developing some head and neck cancers. Other risk factors include poor oral hygiene, poor nutrition, exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light and occupational exposure to wood dust or other dangerous substances.  


To reduce your risk of developing head and neck cancers, consider some lifestyle changes such as quitting tobacco, eating a healthy diet, and limiting exposure to UV light and dangerous fumes or dust in the workplace. 

Wilmot Cancer Institute offers a Tobacco Cessation Program to help patients who smoke or use other tobacco products.