Nutrition and pharyngeal cancer: results from a case-control study in Spain

Head Neck. 2002 Sep;24(9):830-40. doi: 10.1002/hed.10142.


Background: Oropharyngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer is increasing all over the world, frequently affecting more and more women and younger individuals and not only the typical 50- to 60-year-old heavy smoker and drinking man. In addition, 5-year overall survival rate remains poor (30% to 40% in most series), despite advances in treatment. Therefore, it is crucial to understand as accurately as possible the risk factors for these malignancies to improve primary prevention.

Methods: We report the results from a case-control study of pharyngeal cancer risk factors conducted in Spain involving 232 consecutive patients who were gender- and age-matched with 232 controls. Data were collected by interviewer-administered personal interview.

Results: Our results show that low intake of fruit, fruit juice, uncooked vegetables, dietary fiber-containing foods (legume and cereals), fish, milk, and dairy products is an independent risk factor for pharyngeal cancer and that high consumption of meat and fried foods also increases the risk once data are adjusted for tobacco smoking and alcohol drinking.

Conclusions: Although findings for fruit, juice, and uncooked vegetables are in accordance with those from other authors and can be explained on a biologic basis, the relationship between pharyngeal cancer and dietary excess of saturated fatty acids needs experimental investigation. Findings for milk, dairy products, and fish also warrant more detailed epidemiologic research because of conflicting data reported in the literature and because of the reportedly ambiguous role of retinol in human cancers. No conclusive explanations for the protective effect of dietary fiber-containing foods can be put forward today. Our results are uniquely attributable to oropharyngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers because of the small size of our nasopharyngeal cancer subsample.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / epidemiology*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / etiology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Diet / adverse effects*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Pharyngeal Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Pharyngeal Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Spain / epidemiology
  • Statistics as Topic / methods
  • Surveys and Questionnaires