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To review the most recent epidemiological studies on head and neck cancer and changes in knowledge about risk factors. The main review concerned the squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity, oropharynx, larynx and hypopharynx.Overall, the incidence of head and neck cancer is increasing in women, whereas it is decreasing in men. Chewing tobacco is a newly recognized risk factor of great public health concern. Human papillomavirus infection has been found to be a factor of good prognosis for oral cavity and oropharynx squamous cell cancer. The role of tobacco smoking and alcohol in the genesis of this cancer has been reinforced.The presence or absence of human papillomavirus in patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck is a new parameter for prediction of long-term outcome of cancer of the oral cavity and of the oropharynx. Head and neck cancer among women in developing countries should deserve more attention, as the mortality rates appear to be higher than those of women in developed countries. For never smokers and never drinkers, more research needs to be done to identify their risk factor patterns.