What are the risk factors for throat cancer?

A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of developing a disease. Having risk factors, however, does not necessarily mean you will get cancer, so it’s important to know your own personal risk factors and discuss any concerns with your doctor.

Although the effects of throat cancer can be significant, the disease is often highly treatable when detected and diagnosed early.

Tobacco and alcohol use are two of the biggest contributing risk factors for throat cancer, but researchers have identified certain other risk factors that may make some people more likely to develop the disease:

  • Being male (Men are up to five times more likely than women to develop throat cancer.)
  • Ethnicity (African-Americans are at a greater risk of developing throat cancer than people of other ethnicities, and those with Chinese or other East Asian ancestry are at greater risk of developing nasopharyngeal cancer specifically)
  • Being over age 65
  • Exposure to asbestos and chemicals such as nickel, sulfuric acid and paint fumes 
  • Exposure to the Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus

Preventing throat cancer, or at least reducing your risk, often involves changing lifestyle behaviors and certain environmental exposures.

This includes eliminating tobacco use, drinking alcohol in moderation, avoiding certain environmental and chemical exposures (such as asbestos, nickel, sulfuric acid and paint fumes) and getting vaccinated for HPV.

At the Cancer Institute, our team of throat cancer experts will discuss with you what tests are best for your personal needs as well as any additional steps you can take to lower your risk of developing this disease.

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