Genetics may be responsible for head and neck cancers

26 Jan 2015

Head and neck cancers (HNC) in young adults are more likely to be as a result of inherited factors, rather than lifestyle factors such as smoking or drinking alcohol.


Dr Tatiana Natasha Toporcov and colleagues pooled data from 25 studies from the International Head and Neck Cancer Epidemiology consortium to compare the role of major risk factors and family history in HNC for young adults (45 years of age or younger) and older adults (over 45 years of age).

Participants were surveyed about their history of cigarette smoking, alcohol drinking, and diet, as well as family history of cancer. In total, there were 2,010 cases and 4,042 controls in young adults and 17,700 cases and 22,704 controls in older adults.

A large sample-sized study with concrete results

Family history of any type of cancer was directly associated with HNC risk only among the older group, but a family history of early-onset cancer was associated with HNC risk only in younger adults.

Their results also indicate that:

  • The alcohol consumption was a risk factor for HNC in young adults, although they were less likely to be drinkers and/or smokers.
  • A stronger association with heavy drinking was observed for the older group. In younger adults the associations were weaker, probably due to shorter exposure to smoking and drinking.


  • The inverse association with fruit and vegetable intake is similar among young and older populations.
  • Young adults were more likely to have been diagnosed with oral and oropharynx cancer than older adults.
  • Early onset cancer in the family was associated with HNC risk only among young adults, not older ones.

More risk factors to be researched

Dr Toporcov says: "To our knowledge, this is the largest study to evaluate the role of the major risk factors for HNC in young adults as well as to compare risks in younger and older patients. The large sample size allowed us to elucidate any differences in the role of risk factors in HNC in younger adults according to age group, sex and cancer sub sites” adding that investigations of the role of other risk factors, such as human papilloma virus and inherited characteristics, on HNC in the younger age group are necessary.

The research is detailed in an article published online in the International Journal of Epidemiology.


Source: Medical News Today

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