Effects of Alcohol, Tobacco on Head and Neck Cancers Studied

Cigarette smoking is more strongly associated with an increased risk for cancers of the head and neck than alcohol consumption, according to recent study results published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Previous research has shown that a combination of tobacco and alcohol consumption is responsible for at least 75 percent of all cases of head and neck cancers. A team from the International Agency for Cancer Research in Lyon, France, undertook a study to determine the independent effect of each of these risk factors, examining head and neck cancer risk among smokers who never drank and alcohol users who had never smoked.

Head and neck cancers arise in the head or neck region in areas such as the nasal cavity, sinuses, lip, mouth, salivary glands, throat or larynx. Such cancers account for approximately 3 to 5 percent of all cancers in the United States and are more common in men and in people over age 50, according to the National Cancer Institute.

For the French study, researchers analyzed data from 15 case-control studies that included 10,244 head and neck cancer patients and 15,227 controls. Approximately 16 percent of the cancer patients and 27 percent of the controls never drank alcohol compared to 11 percent and 38 percent, respectively, for cigarette use.

The team found that cigarette smoking was associated with an increased risk for head and neck cancer — particularly cancer of the voicebox — among patients who had never consumed alcohol, accounting for about 24 percent of all head and neck cancers.

Consuming alcohol, however, was associated with increased head and neck cancer risk mainly for subjects who drank three or more drinks a day. These subjects, who doubled their risk for head and neck cancers, accounted for 7 percent of all such cancers.

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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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