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Head and neck (oral) cancer screening recommendations

The head and neck area is made up of various parts, including the lips, lip and cheek linings, teeth, tongue, gums, larynx, hypopharynx, oropharynx, throat, tonsils, tongue base, nasopharynx and jaw. Head and neck cancer can affect any of these areas.

Factors that place you at higher risk for head and neck cancer are:

Age. Your risk of developing head and neck cancer increases after age 45.

HPV infection. Recent studies have shown that certain strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV), especially HPV 16, may increase your risk of developing head and neck cancer. The number of patients with HPV-related head and neck cancer has been increasing over the past two decades.

Tobacco and alcohol use. The use of cigarettes, pipes, cigars, and smokeless tobacco is responsible for most cases of head and neck cancer. Alcohol, particularly beer and hard liquor, are associated with an increased risk of developing head and neck cancers. Avoiding or stopping the use of tobacco and alcohol will decrease your risk.

Screening recommendations

Ages 18+: You should be screened yearly as part of a dental exam that includes a full oral exam with inspection and palpation (an examination by touching the soft tissues of the head and neck, as well as the inside of the mouth).

Vaccination to prevent HPV infection

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends vaccination for girls and young women between the ages of 9-26, ideally by age 11-12, before the onset of any sexual activity. The recommendation for boys and young men is ages 9-21.

Read the CDC Vaccine Information Statement.

Related links

Watch a video about HPV and the risk for head and neck cancer.

Read a Q & A about head and neck cancer with Robert Haddad, MD, Head and Neck Cancer Disease Center Leader at Dana-Farber.

Should boys and girls be vaccinated against HPV? 

Watch a video about coping with side effects of head and neck cancer treatment.

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  • Related Multimedia

    • Dr. Robert HaddadDr. Robert Haddad appeared on WBUR's Here and Now to discuss the CDC's recommendation that boys should be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV).
      Listen to the story 

    • Robert Haddad in a survivorship videoLearn tips for coping with some of the short- and long-term side effects associated with head and neck cancer treatment in this video. 

    • HPV and head and neck cancer video screenshot An increasing number of head and neck cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus, and people are being diagnosed at an increasingly younger age. Dr. Haddad comments in this NBC Nightly News story.
  • Patient Story

    • Ali Abbas AliWhile seeking a second opinion after a throat cancer diagnosis, Ali Abbas Ali found a team approach that went beyond innovative treatment, emphasizing a full spectrum of care and support that includes speech therapy, psychosocial services, nutrition, and pain management.
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