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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? 

  • Head and Neck Cancer