While head and neck cancers can develop in anyone, tobacco and alcohol use are important risk factors. In fact, 85 percent of all head and neck cancers are linked to tobacco use. Those who combine tobacco and alcohol are at an even greater risk for developing these types of cancers.
Other factors may include, but certainly are not limited to:
- Poor oral hygiene
- Inhalation of various industrial exposures
- Sun exposure
There is no screening tool for head and neck cancers. To make a diagnosis, physicians will complete the following:
- Patient medical history evaluation
- Physical exam, including fiberoptic endoscopy (a thin tube used to see the inside of the throat)
- Diagnostic tests
Tests will vary depending on patient symptoms. The following are commonly performed:
- Lab tests generally include examination of body substances.
- X-rays create film images of areas inside the head and/or neck.
- CT scans use a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the head and neck. The pictures are created by a computer linked to an X-ray machine.
- MRI scans, otherwise known as magnetic resonance imaging, use a powerful magnet linked to a computer to create detailed pictures of areas inside the head and/or neck.
- PET scan uses a modified sugar that is absorbed by cancer cells. Cancerous cells appear as dark areas on the screen.