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Head and neck cancers usually develop within the squamous cells (the moist cells that line the inside of the mouth, nose, and throat, for example). Alcohol and tobacco use (which includes the use of smokeless tobacco, like chewing tobacco) are two of the most important risk factors for the development of head and neck cancers.

Infection with types of human papillomavirus (HPV), particularly HPV type 16, is a risk factor for some types of head and neck cancers, particularly oropharyngeal cancers of the tonsils and base of the tongue. Other risk factors for head and neck cancers may include:

  • Preserved or salted foods
  • Occupational exposure
  • Radiation exposure
  • Epstein-Barr infection

Northwestern Medicine offers multidisciplinary care for the diagnosis and treatment of head and neck cancers, including the Head and Neck Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.