Customized Treatment for Head and Neck Cancers

Catholic Health oncologists are experts in treating head and neck cancers, which can develop in the nasal cavity, sinuses, lips, mouth, salivary glands, throat, larynx (voice box) or thyroid gland. Early diagnosis is important because most head and neck cancers can be treated successfully if caught early.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Head and neck cancers include different types of cancer that develop in the mouth, nose and throat, including:

  • Oral cavity (mouth lining, gums, lips and tongue)
  • Pharynx (soft palate, tonsils)
  • Larynx (voice box, vocal cords and epiglottis)
  • Sinuses and nasal cavity
  • Salivary glands

More than 90 percent of head and neck cancers are squamous cell carcinoma and begin in the soft, moist tissue that lines the mouth, nose, throat and other body areas.

Symptoms vary according to where the cancer begins. Tell your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Sore that bleeds or will not heal
  • White or red patch on the gums, tongue or mouth lining
  • Lump or swelling in the mouth or neck that persists
  • Ongoing sore throat
  • Difficult or painful swallowing
  • Upper teeth pain or dentures that now fit poorly
  • Pain in the ears
  • Changed or hoarse voice
  • Chronic sinus congestion or infections that do not respond to antibiotics
  • Frequent nosebleeds and headaches
  • Numbness or pain in the face, chin or neck that does not go away

You are more likely to develop cancer in the head and neck if you:

  • Smoke or chew tobacco
  • Drink alcohol

Other risk factors for some head and neck cancers include:

  • Chewing betel quid (paan)
  • Poor oral hygiene and oral health
  •  Occupational exposure to wood dust or second-hand smoke
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Men develop head and neck cancer two times more often than women.

Diagnosis of head and neck tumors typically requires collaboration between a primary care physician, dentist, oral surgeon and head and neck surgeon. Your doctor will perform a head and neck physical exam to check your face, larynx, mouth, neck, nose and thyroid for unusual lumps or masses.

Testing helps your doctor determine the location of a tumor and if the tumor is cancerous or noncancerous. Testing may include:

  • Biopsy. A sample of tissue is removed and sent to a laboratory to check for cancer cells.
  • Core needle biopsy. Allows removal of a larger piece of tissue.
  • Fine needle aspiration. Performed on neck masses or lumps.
  • Radiological exams. Includes CT, MRI or PET scans to help locate the tumor.

Treatment methods will vary depending on the cancer type and stage. Standard treatment options include:

  • Surgery. Removes a tumor from the affected area.
  • Radiation therapy. Targets and eliminates cancer cells with high-energy radiation.
  • Medical therapy. Different types of drugs, including chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy.

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