Head And Neck Cancer In Young Adults: How It Affects The Non-Smokers And Non-Tobacco Chewers?

Updated at: Aug 05, 2020
Head And Neck Cancer In Young Adults: How It Affects The Non-Smokers And Non-Tobacco Chewers?

Approximately 550,000 new cases of head and neck cancer are diagnosed worldwide annually, with an increased incidence in young adults being reported.

Tavishi Dogra
CancerWritten by: Tavishi DograPublished at: Aug 01, 2020

Head And Neck Cancer In Young Adults: Cancers that occur in the neck and head usually begin in the squamous cells that line the mucosal and moist surfaces inside the head and neck (for example, inside the mouth, the nose, and the throat). Cancers of the neck and head are further characterised by the area of the head or neck in which they occur. These areas are labelled and described below in the image of head and neck cancer regions, throat, voicebox, nasal cavity, salivary glands and oral cavity. Some of the other risk factors for cancers of the head and neck include the following:

  • Paan (betel quid)
  • Preserved or salted foods
  • Oral health
  • Occupational exposure
  • Radiation exposure



There are mainly two substances that potentially increase the risk of developing a head and neck cancer:

  • Tobacco: Tobacco consumption includes smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipes; chewing tobacco, and using snuff. It is one of the significant risk factors contributing to head and neck cancers. Eighty-five per cent (85%) of head and neck cancers are linked to tobacco consumption which may affect prognosis and the chance of recovery. Besides, second-hand smoke may increase a person’s risk of developing head and neck cancer.
  • Alcohol: Frequent and heavy alcohol consumption advances the risk of developing cancer and using both alcohol and tobacco together increase this risk even more.

SYMPTOMS OF HEAD AND NECK CANCER: The symptoms may include a lump or a sore that does not heal, persistent difficulty in swallowing, sore throat, and a change or harshness in the voice. Although other, less severe conditions may also cause these symptoms; it is recommended to check with a doctor. 

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Symptoms which may affect specific areas of the head and neck are as follow:


  • Oral cavity: A whitish or reddish patch on the gums, the tongue, or the lining of the mouth; a swelling of the the jaw that causes dentures to be uncomfortable; and unusual bleeding or pain in the mouth.
  • Pharynx (Throat): The problem in breathing or speaking; pain when swallowing food or water; persistent, frequent headaches, pain in the neck or the throat; anxiety, or ringing in the ears; or trouble hearing.
  • Larynx (Voicebox): Pain when swallowing or ear pain. Paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity. Sinuses that are blocked and do not manifest easily; chronic sinus infections which are not getting treated with antibiotics; nose bleeding; frequent headaches, swelling or other trouble with the eyes; pain in the upper teeth; or problems with dentures.

  • Salivary glands: Swelling around the jawbone or under the chin, numbness or paralysis of the face muscle, continuous pain in the face, jaw, or neck.



  • Stopping the consumption of all tobacco products is highly recommended to reduce the risk, even for those who have been smoking for years.
  • Try to avoid alcohol consumption.
  • Protect yourself against HPV infection by practising safe sex and getting the HPV vaccine.
  • If you are exposed to dust, and toxic fumes wear a protective face mask
  • Maintaining proper care of dentures. Ill fitted dentures can trap tobacco and alcohol’s cancer- causing substances.
(The article has been medically reviewed by Dr Praveen Kumar Garg, Senior Consultant, Surgical Oncology at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals)

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