Tobacco use, including cigarettes, chewing tobacco and cigars or pipes, is linked to 85 percent of head and neck cancers. However, tobacco-related head and neck cancers are decreasing in the United States, while the incidence of HPV-related head and neck cancers is rising rapidly.

Risk Factors

  • Tobacco use
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Gender: Men are twice as likely to develop head and neck cancers
  • Age: People over the age of 40 are at a higher risk
  • Race: Head and neck cancers are more common in people of African American descent
  • Poor oral hygiene: Poor care of the mouth, teeth and even dentures can lead to a higher risk
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to and inhaling fumes and chemicals increases risk


About HPV

Human papillomavirus is so-named because it causes small wart-like growths (papillomas) on the skin and mucous membranes. Many papillomas heal on their own. However, when papillomas persist and grow out of control they can become cancerous.

The virus affects both men and women and is incredibly prevalent; in the United States, more than one in four people are infected and about 14 million become infected each year. HPV typically affects the genitals and is spread by skin-to-skin contact during intercourse. Oral HPV is spread during oral sex with an infected person and usually affects the tonsils and base of the tongue.

Renown Health recommends HPV vaccinations for both boys and girls starting at age 11, although it's safe in patients as early as age nine. Vaccination at an earlier age creates a higher production of protective antibodies. Vaccination should be given before age 26 and before exposure to HPV occurs.

For more information about HPV vaccinations, call 775-982-5000.



During a head and neck cancer screening, the doctor thoroughly checks the areas in and around the mouth, sinuses, nose, throat, neck, eyes and ears for lesions, lumps or asymmetries. Dentists also look for signs of these cancers at dental checkups.