Prevention and Risk Factors

Anyone can develop head and neck cancer, but understanding prevention and risk factors can help reduce your chances of acquiring these types of cancer.


Minimizing head and neck cancer risks requires lifestyle changes. It is important to have a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Eliminating tobacco and alcohol use also may reduce the risks of developing cancer. It is important to discuss ways to improve your health and reduce cancer risks with a doctor.

Risk Factors

There are several risk factors that contribute to increasing your chances of acquiring head and neck cancers. These risk factors are genetic (predisposed traits), behavioral, and environmental. The following are risk factors:


  • Exposure to known carcinogens such as industrial toxins (asbestos and benzenes)
  • Repeated exposure to chemicals in tobacco and tobacco smoke


  • Tobacco use
  • Secondhand smoke
  • Alcohol use


  • Predisposed to inheriting gene mutations from parents

¬©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by Healthwise, Incorporated. To learn more, visit

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Pittsburgh, PA, USA