What increases my risk of mouth, head and neck cancer?

Older woman talking to her doctor

These risk factors can increase your chance of developing mouth, head and neck cancer : 

  • Smoking: If you smoke, you are more at risk of developing cancer of the mouth, tonsil, throat, larynx or lung. Pipe smokers have an increased risk of lip cancer. If you chew tobacco, you have a higher risk of developing mouth cancers. All types of tobacco use increase your risk of mouth, head and neck cancer. There is no safe use of tobacco. 
  • Age: Your risk increases as you get older. While these cancers are more common in people over 50 years of age, they are increasing in people under 50. 
  • Gender: These cancers are more common in men than women, but rates in women are rising.
  • Alcohol: If you drink a lot of alcohol (more than 10 standard drinks per week), particularly spirits, you are much more likely to develop a head and neck cancer. If you smoke and drink alcohol, the risk is even higher. 
  • Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection: HPV can increase the risk of cancers in the tongue, tonsil, soft palate and throat.
  • Sun exposure: UV rays increase your risk of cancer of the ear, nose and lip.
  • Exposure to chemicals and dusts in the workplace: This is linked to throat cancer. 

Having a risk factor doesn’t mean you will get cancer. Sometimes people with no risk factors get cancer. If you’re worried, talk to your GP or to one of our cancer nurses on the Support Line 1800 200 700 or visit a Daffodil Centre.

Reducing your risk of mouth, head and neck cancer

The most important things you can do to reduce your risk of mouth, head and neck cancer are to:

  • Stop smoking
  • Stay within the low-risk alcohol guidelines (11 standard drinks for women per week, 17 for men)
  • Protect your skin from the sun with suncream and a lipbalm with sunblock
  • Go for regular check-ups with your dentist

For more information

Icon: Phone


1800 200 700

Icon: Email