Head and neck cancer (HNC) is one of the 10 most frequent cancers worldwide, with an estimated over 500.000 new cases being diagnosed annually. The overall 5-year survival rate in patients with HNC is one of the lowest among common malignant neoplasms and has not significantly changed during the last two decades. Oral cavity squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) shares part of HNC and has been reported to be increasing in the betel quid chewing area in recent years. During 2006, OSCC has become the sixth most common type of cancer in Taiwan, and it is also the fourth most common type of cancer among men. It follows that this type of cancer wreaks a high social and personal cost. Environmental carcinogens such as betel quid chewing, tobacco smoking and alcohol drinking have been identified as major risk factors for head and neck cancer. There is growing interest in understanding the relationship between genetic susceptibility and the prevalent environmental carcinogens for HNC prevention. Within this review, we discuss the molecular and cellular aspects of HNC carcinogenesis in Taiwan, an endemic betel quid chewing area. Knowledge of molecular carcinogenesis of HNC may provide critical clues for diagnosis, prognosis, individualization of therapy and molecular therapeutics.
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