Head and neck cancer means any cancer that starts in the region of the head or neck, such as the sinuses, mouth or throat. If you have concerns, you can trust us to for education, early detection and screening, what to expect and next steps after a diagnosis.
When you’re diagnosed, every day counts. If you have a benign or malignant (cancerous) tumor of the head or neck, we’ll help you review and understand your options so you can quickly move to treatment.
Head and neck cancer detection and diagnosis
Talk to your doctor if you notice a lump in your jaw or throat or have symptoms of a common cold for more than two weeks, such as:
- Ear pain or ringing
- Persistent cough
- Sore throat
- Trouble swallowing
Your doctor can conduct a complete head and neck exam and order special endoscopic exams. Depending on your results, you may be referred to our advanced imaging services or need a biopsy. A pathologist, a doctor who specializes in diagnosing disease, will look at your cell samples to identify the presence of cancer and determine its type and whether it’s noninvasive or invasive.
Innovative techniques and technologies offered
We target head and neck tumors with some of the most advanced treatments and technology available. In the hands of our experts, tools such as these can lead to optimal results and improved survival rates. Throughout our system, our advanced offerings include:
- da Vinci® robot – A robotic surgical system designed to facilitate complex surgery using a minimally invasive approach. This system enables surgeons to make smaller, more precise movements with tiny instruments inside your body, which can help you heal more quickly.
- TrueBeam™– A medical device that delivers a radiation beam to target cancer while exposing healthy cells to minimal radiation. No incisions are made; the noninvasive device rotates around the patient, delivering the radiation dose from different angles.
You will need to call your local hospital to learn which of these options are available in your area.
How We Treat Head and Neck Cancer
Your case is unique, which means your treatment plan will be designed around you and your unique needs. Every week, a team of specialists meets to discuss cancer cases and collaborate on the best treatment for each patient. You benefit from the combined expertise of specialists in radiology, surgery, pathology, pharmacology, oncology and therapists in fields like physical therapy and psychology.
Your recommended treatment will be based on best practices that have worked for other patients, specific aspects of your cancer/tumor, the results of all your tests, the stage of your cancer and your personal preferences.
While there are many ways to treat head or neck cancer, the main types of treatment are surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or any combination of the three with additional newer treatments to supplement your care.
Although some head and neck cancers are located in places that are difficult to operate on, surgery is still the most common treatment. The goal of surgery is to take out the cancer as well as a slight edge of healthy tissue around the tumor. In some cases, all or part of the tongue, throat, vocal box, wind pipe or jaw bone may need to be removed. Surgery may also be used to take out lymph nodes in the neck that haven’t gotten better with other treatments.
Further surgery may be done for purposes of reconstruction or to compensate for functional loss due to cancer. For example, if you cannot swallow because of a tumor, surgery may be done to put in a feeding tube
Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill or shrink cancer cells. Your doctor may use internal or external radiation, or both, to treat your cancer. This treatment can be used to shrink a tumor before surgery, kill cancer cells that remain in the area after surgery, target tumors that can’t be removed with surgery, or treat cancer if you cannot have surgery.
Radiation to the head and neck area can cause problems with tissue healing after dental work. For this reason, your doctor may suggest you have a full dental exam before starting radiation. If you have dental problems, the doctor will want you to have an exam as soon as possible before radiation starts. Because dental problems can get worse with radiation, it may be necessary to have some or all of your teeth removed.
Chemotherapy uses powerful medicines, either given through a vein or taken as pills, to kill cancer cells all through the body. Chemo is given in rounds, followed by a break; treatment can last for months. Chemo may be used to shrink a tumor before surgery or to kill any cancer cells that remain after local treatments. It may also treat tumors that have grown in other places in the body. Cancers that have spread are usually treated with chemotherapy.
Immunotherapy (biologic therapy>
Immunotherapy is the use of medicines to help a person’s own immune system recognize and destroy invading cancer cells. These medicines can be in the form of pills or injections or given through an IV.
Targeted therapy drugs target the changes in cells that cause cancer cells to form. These drugs affect the cancer cells in your body and leave your normal cells alone. This treatment course sometimes works when standard chemotherapy drugs don’t, and they often have different (and less severe) side effects. Targeted therapy drugs come as pills that you take at home.
Your doctor may suggest using this therapy in combination with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. This is especially true if your cancer has stopped responding to radiation or chemotherapy care.
Care and Support
Your care team
Our cancer care teams know that great care is the result of seamless communication between you, your family and your existing healthcare providers. When you have this kind of collaboration, you can expect a more efficient, effective and tailored approach to meeting your individual needs.
Head and neck cancer nurse navigators
One of your key team members is your nurse navigator, who serves as a patient educator and care guide focused on improving your cancer treatment experience. Your nurse navigator will assist you at every stage, help you understand your diagnosis and treatment options and coordinate care between your physician, surgeon and other support teams.
Life beyond cancer
With earlier detection, more patients are surviving cancer than ever before. Our survivorship program gives you access to specialists who partner with you for your post-treatment. This program focuses on nutritional goals, healthy living and emotional well-being. We’ll also help you set up regular medical checkups with your primary doctor to prevent, detect and manage any complications related to your cancer or cancer treatment. Because you may be at higher risk for second cancers, screening and surveillance are essential to your long-term health.
Lymphedema occurs when lymphatic fluid accumulates in tissue and causes painful swelling, most often in the arms or legs. Lymphedema can occur in head and neck cancer patients who’ve had lymph nodes removed.
Our trained specialists can provide relief from pain and swelling and help you prevent and manage lymphedema.
RehabilitationcOur rehabilitation specialists can help you regain function after treatment and surgery. Speech therapy, swallowing therapy and physical rehabilitation are often offered as part of your treatment plan for head and neck cancer patients.