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Throat cancer: one of many head and neck cancers

Throat cancers are included under the larger canopy of head and neck cancer. Here are the facts about throat cancer risk:

Susan Daron, RN, BSN, OCN, is one of four oncology registered nurses at the Cancer AnswerLine™

Susan Daron, RN, BSN, OCN, is one of four oncology registered nurses at the Cancer AnswerLine™

  • Throat cancer is more common in men than women
  • It occurs most often in people over the age of 50
  • Use of tobacco and alcohol

The National Cancer Institute estimates at least 75% of head and neck cancers are caused by tobacco and alcohol use. In fact, people who use both tobacco and alcohol are at greater risk of developing these cancers than people who use either tobacco or alcohol alone.

Another risk factor for throat cancer is human papilloma virus, or HPV infection. Although there are more than 100 types of this virus, one type in particular, HPV 16, is linked to throat cancer. It can be spread via open mouth kissing and oral sex.  According to the American Cancer Society, most people with HPV infections of the mouth and throat have no symptoms, and only a very small percentage develop throat cancer. Oral HPV infection is more common in men than in women. The risk also increases with the number of sexual partners a person has.

Now for the good news: here are some actions you can take to reduce your risk of getting throat cancer:

  • Quit or limit your use of tobacco and alcohol
  • Get regular dental exams
  • Limit the number of sexual partners

There is a HPV vaccine called Gardasil that protects against HPV 16, and it is approved for use in kids/adults between 9-26 years of age. The reason is it geared towards kids and young adults is it works best if given before sexual activity starts, since the vaccine can help prevent future HPV infections, but does not eliminate existing ones.

If you are a smoker or know one who is thinking of quitting, our University of Michigan Tobacco Consultation Service is open to the general public. Smoking cessation programs are available either free of charge or for a small fee. The phone number is 734-998-6222.

Continue reading about throat / head and neck cancer and risk factors:

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