Myth: Smoking and excessive drinking are the leading causes of head and neck cancer. Fact: This was true in the past, says Matthew Old, MD, head and neck division director of the Department of Otolaryngology &ndash; Head and Neck Surgery. &ldquo;Now, though, due to the human papillomavirus epidemic, HPV is the leading cause of tongue-based and tonsil-based head and neck cancers. There are studies and projections indicating that in about 10 years, head and neck cancers caused by HPV could be among the most common cancers in the 45-to-65 age group.&rdquo; The good news is that these cancers can be prevented with the HPV vaccination. &ldquo;We need to continue to educate people about the importance of this vaccine and increase the percentage of children, teens and adults who get vaccinated,&rdquo; Old says. While HPV is now the leading cause, smoking and drinking remain risk factors for some head and neck cancers. Reducing or eliminating alcohol can lower the risk of many cancers, as can quitting &mdash; or better yet, never starting &mdash; smoking, which can cut the chances of developing lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer deaths.