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Inherited factors likely to be cause of HNC in young adults

29 January 2015

Inherited factors likely to be cause of HNC in young adults

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, research published in the International Journal of Epidemiology has found.

Approximately 550,000 new cases of HNC are diagnosed worldwide annually, with an increased incidence in young adults (YA) also being reported. In particular, reports indicate an increase in tumours affecting the tongue and oropharynx among young adults in Europe, the United States, India and China.

Dr Tatiana Natasha Toporcov and colleagues pooled data from 25 studies from the International Head and Neck Cancer Epidemiology consortium.

The attributable fraction for smoking on the risk of HNC was 20 per cent in young women, 49 per cent in older women, 46 per cent in older women, 46 per cent in young men, and 64 per cent in older men. The attributable fraction for drinking alcohol on the risk of HNC was five per cent in young women, 20 per cent in older women, 22 per cent in young men, and 50 per cent in older men. Eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables was shown to be inversely associated with the risk of HNC in both age groups.

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 YA. The attributable fraction for family history of early onset cancer on the risk of HMC was 23 per cent in young adults and two per cent in older adults.

Dr Toporcov said: “Although they were less likely to be drinkers and/or smokers, alcohol consumption was a risk factor for HNC in YA. However, a stronger association with heavy drinking was observed for the older group. Our results also indicate that the inverse association with fruit and vegetable intake is similar among young and older populations. YA were more likely to have been diagnosed with oral and oropharynx cancer than older adults. Also, early onset cancer in the family was associated with HNC risk only among YA.” 

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