Second Cancers After Oral Cavity or Oropharyngeal Cancer

Cancer survivors can be affected by a number of health problems, but often their greatest concern is facing cancer again. If oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer comes back after treatment it is called a recurrence. But some cancer survivors may develop a new, unrelated cancer later. This is called a second cancer. No matter what type of cancer you have had, it's still possible to get another (new) cancer, even after surviving the first.

Being treated for cancer doesn’t mean you can’t get another cancer. People who have had cancer can still get the same types of cancers that other people get. In fact, some types of cancer and cancer treatments can be linked to a higher risk of certain second cancers.

Second cancers linked to oropharyngeal cancer

Patients who have had cancers of the oropharynx can get any type of second cancer, but they have an increased risk of:

Second cancers linked to oral cancer

Survivors of cancer of the oral cavity can get any second cancer, but they have an increased risk of:

What you can do

Quit smoking

Many of these cancers are linked to tobacco use. In fact, lung cancer, a cancer strongly linked to smoking tobacco, is the most common second cancer in those with a history of mouth or throat cancer.

While it's not easy to do, quitting tobacco can decrease your risk of many health problems, including another cancer. Smokers who quit have a lower risk of lung, esophagus, larynx, hypopharynx, and oral cavity and oropharynx than those who continue to smoke.

See Stay Away from Tobacco to learn more about quitting tobacco.

Follow-up after treatment

After completing treatment for cancer of the oral cavity or oropharynx, you should still see your doctor regularly. Your doctor may order tests to look for signs that the cancer has come back or spread. These tests are also useful in finding some second cancers, particularly a new lung cancer or cancer in the mouth or throat. Experts don’t recommend any other tests to look for second cancers in people who don’t have symptoms. Let your doctor know about any changes or problems you notice, because they could be caused by the cancer coming back or by a new disease or second cancer.

Survivors of oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers should follow the American Cancer Society guidelines for the early detection of cancer.

To be in good health, survivors should also:

These steps can also lower the risk of some cancers.

See Second Cancers in Adults to learn more about the causes of second cancers.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

National Cancer Institute. Head and Neck Cancers. March 29, 2017. Accessed at www.cancer.gov/types/head-and-neck/head-neck-fact-sheet#q12 on March 5, 2018.

Shiels MS, Gibson T, Sampson J, et al. Cigarette smoking prior to first cancer and risk of second smoking-associated cancers among survivors of bladder, kidney, head and neck, and stage I lung cancers. J Clin Oncol. 2014;32(35):3989-3995.

Warnakulasuriya KAAS, Robinson D, Evans H. Multiple primary tumours following head and neck cancer in southern England during 1961–98. J Oral Pathol Med. 2003;32(8):443-449.

Last Medical Review: March 9, 2018 Last Revised: March 9, 2018

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