Risk Factors for Head & Neck Cancer

An estimated 85 percent of head and neck cancers, especially of the oral cavity, oropharynx, hypopharynx and larynx, are linked to cigarette smoking and chewing tobacco. Additional risk factors include alcohol consumption, sun exposure, radiation, inhalation of asbestos or wood or nickel dust, and poor oral hygiene.

HPV-related Head & Neck Cancer

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is the most commonly diagnosed sexually transmitted disease in the U.S. and is one of the highest risk factors for oral oropharyngeal cancers, particularly in the upper throat and base of tongue. It is therefore recommended that individuals speak with their physician about the benefits of the HPV vaccination for prevention of HPV related malignancies.

Diagnosing Head & Neck Cancer

Diagnosing head and neck cancer in its earliest stages can help your treatment to be more successful. Our expert team is highly skilled in diagnosing and staging head and neck tumors using the latest in state-of-the-art imaging studies, and other specialized tests, including office-based endoscopy. Upon analysis of test results, Hoag’s multidisciplinary team develops a personalized treatment plan that addresses all facets of care.


Endoscopy is a minimally invasive procedure that utilizes an endoscope (a thin, tube-like device equipped with a camera) to enable physicians to view various areas inside the body. An anesthetic spray is often used to make the examination more comfortable. This examination is called a nasopharyngoscopy, pharyngoscopy, or laryngoscopy, depending on which area is examined. If your physician suspects the presence of head and neck cancer, a more thorough exam called a panendoscopy will be performed.

Indirect Pharyngoscopy and Laryngoscopy

A pharyngoscopy and laryngoscopy uses small mirrors at the back of the mouth to clearly examine the throat, base of the tongue and part of the larynx to check for any signs of head and neck cancer. As with endoscopy, an anesthetic spray is often used to make the examination more comfortable.

State-of-the-Art Imaging

Hoag also provides the latest in state-of-the-art imaging to help physicians diagnose head and neck cancers. Several imaging procedures may be utilized such as:

  • Computed tomography (CT): A CT scan can provide information about the size, shape and position of any tumors, and may also help identify enlarged lymph nodes that may contain cancer cells.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An MRI scan may be used to examine head and neck cancer.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: For patients who have received a head and neck cancer diagnosis, a PET scan may be useful in determining the originating site of cancer, and if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and/or other areas in the body.
  • Positron emission tomography/magnetic resonance (PET/MR) scan: A hybrid imaging technique that combines PET imaging with MR imaging.


If a suspicious area is noted, your physician may perform a biopsy, which is the removal of a small piece of tissue with either a scalpel or a needle. This tissue sample is carefully examined under a microscope to determine whether cells are benign or malignant.

For more information, or to schedule an appointment with a Hoag Head & Neck Cancer Program physician, please call 949-764-5542.