Oral and Upper Airways/Digestive Track Cancers

The American Cancer Society describes the risk factors for various cancers of the mouth, esophagus, throat, and upper airways. A common theme in their review of the topic is that there are many risk factors for each of these; in most cases, they identify genetics, tobacco use, and diet and lifestyle factors.

Oral and Oropharyngeal: “Oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers are often grouped with other cancers in the head and neck area. These cancers often have many of the same risk factors.” The ACS outlines numerous potential risk factors and states the following regarding alcohol: “Drinking alcohol increases the risk of developing oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers. Heavy drinkers have a higher risk than light drinkers.” ACS goes on to explain that “Smoking and drinking alcohol together multiplies the risk of these cancers,” and that “Tobacco use is one of the strongest risk factors for head and neck cancers, including oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer.”1

Esophageal: The ACS notes that “Scientists have found several factors that can affect your risk of esophageal cancer. Some are more likely to increase the risk for adenocarcinoma of the esophagus and others for squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus.” The ACS outlines a number of potential factors and states the following about alcohol use:

Drinking alcohol also increases the risk of esophageal cancer. The more alcohol someone drinks, the higher their chance of getting esophageal cancer. Alcohol increases the risk of squamous cell carcinoma more than the risk of adenocarcinoma.

Smoking combined with drinking alcohol raises the risk of the squamous cell type of esophageal cancer much more than using either alone.2

Laryngeal and Hypopharyngeal: The ACS notes that “Laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers are often grouped with other cancers of the mouth and throat (commonly called head and neck cancers).” The ACS outlines a number of potential risk factors and states the following about alcohol use:

Moderate or heavy alcohol use (more than 1 drink a day) also increases the risk of these cancers, although not as much as smoking.

People who use both tobacco and alcohol have the highest risk of all. Combining these 2 habits doesn’t just add both risks together, it actually multiplies them. People who smoke and drink are many times more likely to get head and neck cancer than people who don’t have these habits.3

Nasopharyngeal: The ACS notes that “Scientists have found risk factors that make a person more likely to develop nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC),” outlining a number of them. Regarding alcohol use, the ACS states: “Some studies have also linked heavy drinking of alcohol to this type of cancer.”4

Find research articles and learn more at PubMed:


  1. Risk Factors for Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancers
  2. Esophageal Cancer Risk Factors | Esophagus Cancer Risk
  3. How Can I Get Throat Cancer? | Throat Cancer Risk Factors
  4. Risk Factors for Nasopharyngeal Cancer