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Head Neck. 2008 Jan;30(1):75-84.

Squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck in never smoker-never drinkers: a descriptive epidemiologic study.

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Department of Head and Neck Surgery, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas, USA.



While the attributed risk factors for the vast majority of patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN) are smoking and alcohol abuse, there appears to be a rising proportion of SCCHN patients who report no significant smoking or drinking history. This study reports the demographic and potential risk factors of a large series of never smoker-never drinker (NSND) patients.


All subjects were participants in a prospective epidemiologic study of incident SCCHN. We obtained demographic data, clinical characteristics, and potential etiologic factors for 172 NSND patients and 1131 ever smoker-ever drinker (ESED) patients. RESULTS.: NSND patients were more likely to be female and to present at extremes of age, but overall were significantly younger than ESED patients. NSND patients had a higher proportion of oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers than ESED patients had. Eleven percent of NSND patients (17% of NSND men) reported regular use of noncigarette tobacco products or marijuana, 41% (45% of NSND women) reported regular environmental exposure to tobacco smoke, 24% (36% of NSND men) reported regular occupational exposures to carcinogens/toxins, and 30% had a history of gastroesophageal reflux disease. More than half the NSND patients with an oropharyngeal primary were serologically positive for human papillomavirus type 16.


NSND patients with SCCHN are commonly young women with oral tongue cancer, elderly women with gingival/buccal cancer, or young to middle-aged men with oropharyngeal cancer. While several exposures studied may be important to the etiology of a subset of these cancers in NSND patients, it is likely that no single known factor is responsible for a majority of SCCHN in NSNDs.

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