What Raises Your Cancer Risk?
Some things can lower your risk of contracting these cancers. These are known as protective factors. Other things can increase your risk, known as risk factors. Risk factors for head and neck cancer include using tobacco—whether smoking, chewing tobacco, or using snuff. In fact, tobacco is the single largest risk factor for head and neck cancers. If you also drink alcohol heavily, this raises your risk even higher.
Other risk factors include staying out in the sun, which can lead to lip cancer, HPV infection, poor oral health, marijuana use, deficiencies of A and B vitamins, GERD, and Epstein-Barr virus infection. African Americans are at greater risk than whites of head and neck cancers. Those with a weakened immune system may be at greater risk. Inhaling asbestos, paint fumes, and wood dust—such as in a job setting—might increase your risk as well.
Protective factors to help prevent these cancers include quitting tobacco use, abstaining from alcohol, avoiding marijuana, using sunscreen, and limiting sexual contact so as to prevent HPV infection. If you wear dentures, make sure they are a good fit, as ill-fitting dentures can trap cancer-causing agents near the skin’s surface.