Head and neck tumours are a group of malignant neoplasms that affect the upper aerodigestive tract, the salivary glands, the nasopharynx, the nasal passages, and the paranasal sinuses. Thyroid, brain and eye tumours, on the other hand, fall into a different category.

Each year in Italy, about 10,000 new cases of head and neck tumours are diagnosed. The disease is 3 times more frequent in northern Italy, and the risk, which increases with age, is greater in men than in women. The disease can significantly compromise the patient’s physical appearance, having a major impact on their quality of life.

The following are the areas most affected:

Oral Cavity

The tongue, floor of the mouth, buccal mucosa, hard palate, and alveolar ridges.

LARYNX (or vocal organs)

They mainly affect the vocal cords, but can also appear on nearby structures.


The pharyngeal walls, tonsils, soft palate, and base of the tongue.

These are also referred to as tumours of the cervico-cephalic region, and generally originate from the squamous cells lining the affected areas. In fact, they’re also called squamous cell head and neck tumours.


Risk factors and prevention

There are several risk factors associated with head and neck tumours, which can increase the likelihood of developing these diseases. Over 70% of these tumours are linked to tobacco use and alcohol consumption. Heavy drinkers and smokers have a 40 times greater risk of developing head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.


The risk depends on the amount of tobacco used and the duration of its use. The risk for those who quit smoking gradually decreases over a 15 year period, at which point their risk is the same as that of non-smokers.

Don’t smoke


The risk associated with the consumption of alcoholic beverages increases over time, and is proportional to the amount of alcohol consumed. Heavy drinkers have a 5 times greater risk of developing mouth tumours, and a 7 times greater risk of developing pharyngeal tumours.

Limit alcohol consumption

Human papillomavirus (HPV)

Papillomavirus infection has been detected in 31% of patients with oropharyngeal tumours, and less frequently in patients with oral and laryngeal tumours (respectively <10% and 2.4%).


A poor diet, especially if low in vitamins A and B, can contribute to the development of these diseases.

Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, especially foods rich in carotenoids, such as peppers, tomatoes, carrots, and squash

Epstein-Barr virus

Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a type of herpes virus that’s transmitted through the saliva, is associated with nasopharyngeal tract tumours.

Occupational exposure to dust and certain substances

Another risk is linked to occupational exposure to certain substances, such as dust from wood, leather, silica, and textile processing, as well as nickel and asbestos, which are namely responsible for some paranasal sinus tumours.

Always wear suitable protective clothing: use masks, gloves and goggles where necessary, and always follow all the rules.

Poor oral hygiene

Head and neck tumours can be linked to poor oral hygiene. In particular, some studies have shown a correlation between the bacterial flora associated with periodontitis and the risk of developing these types of tumours.

Practice good oral hygiene