STEP 1: Prevention and early detection


  • Stop smoking and avoid exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke.
  • Avoid or reduce alcohol intake, ultraviolet exposure and occupational exposure to asbestos, wood dust, nickel alloy and silica dust.
  • Vaccinate against human papillomavirus.
  • Practise good oral hygiene.
  • Eat healthily and maintain a healthy body weight.

Risk factors

People who frequently smoke and consume alcohol are at the highest risk of head and neck cancer.

Risk factors include:

  • smoking, chewing tobacco or chewing betel quid
  • alcohol consumption
  • HPV exposure
  • UV skin exposure (for skin cancer)
  • pre-existing oral lesions
  • poor oral hygiene
  • age (over 40 years)
  • sex (male)
  • Epstein-Barr virus infection in genetically predisposed individuals (for nasopharyngeal cancer)
  • immunosuppression
  • ionising radiation exposure
  • inherited conditions
  • poor nutrition.

Screening recommendations

There are currently no formal screening programs in Australia for detecting head and neck cancer. Opportunistic screening should be conducted during general health examinations and dental check-ups.