Risk Factors

Risk factors for phaynx cancer differ, depending on which section of the pharynx is affected. Risk factors for nasopharyngeal carcinoma include:

  • Male gender. Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is more common in males than females.
  • Race. Most commonly Chinese Americans, followed by other Asian-American groups, African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and whites.
  • Diet. People who live in areas where nasopharyngeal carcinoma is common, such as Asia, North Africa, and the Arctic, typically eat diets very high in salt-cured fish and meat. Indeed, the rate of nasopharyngeal cancer is dropping in southeast China as people begin eating a more Westernized diet. In contrast, some studies have suggested that diets high in fruits and vegetables may lower your risk of nasopharyngeal carcinoma.
  • Evidence of the Epstein-Barr virus. Almost all nasopharyngeal cancer cells contain parts of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), and most people with nasopharyngeal cancer have evidence of this virus in their blood. But the link between EBV infection and nasopharyngeal carcinoma is complex and not yet completely understood. EBV infection alone is not enough to cause nasopharyngeal carcinoma, since infection with this virus is very common, and nasopharyngeal cancer is rare. Other factors, such as your genes, may affect how your body deals with EBV, which in turn may affect how EBV contributes to the development of nasopharyngeal carcinoma.

Risk factors for oropharyngeal cancer usually arises in individuals ages 45-70 who have abused tobacco and alcohol. The human papillomavirus (HPV) has been found in more than half of these tumors and probably plays a role in cancer development. This virus might be transmitted through sexual contact.

Risk factors for hypopharyngeal cancers are most often associated with tobacco and alcohol use, especially in combination.

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