Awareness and Prevention

Head and neck cancer is associated with a number of risk factors, many of which can be avoided. At UT Southwestern Medical Center, we’re focused on head and neck cancer awareness and prevention. Early detection is key to successful treatment.

Risk Factors

Risk factors for head and neck cancer vary based on the location and type of cancer, but include:

Smoking cigarettes, cigars, and pipes, and the use of smokeless tobacco puts you at greater risk for head and neck cancer. (These cancers are rare in people who have never smoked.)
Heavy use of alcohol raises your risk of developing head and neck cancer. (Using alcohol and tobacco together increases your risk even more.)
Poor nutrition
A diet low in vitamins A and B can raise your risk of head and neck cancer.
Prolonged sun exposure
This puts you at greater risk for skin cancer of the head and neck.
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
HPV is becoming an increasingly common risk factor for some types of head and neck cancer.
Poor oral hygiene
When you don’t take care of your teeth and gums, you increase your risk of head and neck cancer.
Epstein-Barr virus
This virus that causes mononucleosis plays a role in the development of some types of head and neck cancer.


Symptoms of head and neck cancer depend on where the cancer develops and how it spreads, but in general, symptoms may include:

  • A lump or swelling in the nose, neck, or throat
  • A sore throat that won’t go away
  • Trouble or pain when swallowing
  • A change or hoarseness in the voice
  • A sore or growth in the mouth
  • Persistent earache


While head and neck cancer may not be completely preventable, you can significantly lower your risk by avoiding the risk factors or stopping the ones that are under your control. Don’t smoke or abuse alcohol, eat a well-balanced diet, use sunscreen and lip balm regularly, practice protected sex, and ensure you are maintaining good oral hygiene.

Quitting smoking makes a big difference in preventing head and neck cancer.

When you stop using tobacco products, you significantly decrease your risk of head and neck cancer, even if you’ve been smoking for many years. UT Southwestern offers a smoking cessation program to help you quit, in a supportive environment that gives you options and resources at no cost.

Request an Appointment

To schedule a visit with a head and neck cancer specialist at UT Southwestern’s facilities in Dallas or to learn more about our services, request an appointment or call 214-645-8300.