Around 12,000 new cases of head and neck cancer are diagnosed in the UK each year. 

Head and neck cancer is the 8th most common cancer in the UK. It tends to affect more males than females. Over the last decade, head and neck cancer incidence rates have increased by around a quarter. 

Head and neck cancer in England is more common in people living in the most deprived areas.

There are more than 30 areas within the head and neck where cancer can develop. This includes: mouth and lips; larynx; throat; salivary glands; nose and sinuses. Mouth cancer is the most common type of head and neck cancer.

Symptoms of head and neck cancer will vary depending on the type. But some symptoms can include: persistent hoarseness or cough; difficulty or pain when swallowing; shortness of breath; a persistent cough; a lump or swelling in your neck, or in your jaw, mouth or neck. Other symptoms can include numbness in part of your face and drooping on one side of your face.

The symptoms of nose and sinus cancer are similar to viral or bacterial infections, such as the common cold or sinusitis, and include:

  • a persistent blocked nose, which usually only affects 1 side, nosebleeds
  • a decreased sense of smell; mucus running from the nose or down the throat.

Many of these symptoms will not be head and neck cancer but seeing your GP if you have the symptoms outlined

Alcohol and tobacco use, including smokeless tobacco, sometimes called “chewing tobacco” or “snuff” are the two most important risk factors for head and neck cancers, especially cancers of the oral cavity, oropharynx, hypopharynx, and larynx.

Around 75% of head and neck cancers are caused by tobacco and alcohol use. People who use both tobacco and alcohol are at greater risk of developing these cancers than people who use either tobacco or alcohol alone.

Infection with cancer-causing types of human papillomavirus (HPV), is a risk factor for some types of head and neck cancers.

Other risk factors for cancers of the head and neck include: consumption of certain preserved or salted foods during childhood; poor oral hygiene and missing teeth.

In order to find out if you have a head and neck cancer you will see a specialist surgeon, or an ear, nose and throat specialist for tests. These can include: an ultrasound scan of the area and a biopsy. If you have a lump in your neck, you may be sent to a neck lump clinic to have an ultrasound and biopsy on the same day.

Treatment for head and neck cancer varies for each cancer type. Most patients have surgery to remove the tumour. Some patients also have radiotherapy and chemotherapy as part of their treatment.


You can donate today to support local research into head and neck cancer.