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Head & Neck cancer and radiation

Overview

Head and neck cancer is an umbrella term used to define cancer that develops in the head and neck area, including the throat, nose, salivary glands or, most often, the mouth. Most head and neck cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, or cancers that begin in the lining of the mouth, nose and throat. 85% of head and neck cancers are linked to tobacco use, and 75% are associated with a combination of tobacco and alcohol use. Also, cancers related to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) are becoming more prevalent and a high percentage of patients also have a HPV-related tumor.

More information

You can find additional information on head & neck cancer on our Cancer Resources page.

Information on this page was resourced from:

American Cancer Society

National Cancer Institute

Cancer Treatment Centers of America

About Head & Neck cancer

Head and neck cancer is an umbrella term used to define cancer that develops in the head and neck area, including the throat, nose, salivary glands or, most often, the mouth. Most head and neck cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, or cancers that begin in the lining of the mouth, nose and throat. 85% of head and neck cancers are linked to tobacco use, and 75% are associated with a combination of tobacco and alcohol use. Also, cancers related to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) are becoming more prevalent and a high percentage of patients also have a HPV-related tumor.

Because most head and neck cancers form in the surface layer of the tissue, where the cells are flat and squamous, most head and neck cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. Because of their location, head and neck tumors and treatment-related side effects may impair patients’ ability to eat, swallow, and breathe.

Head and neck cancers account for about 3% of all cancers in the United States. The majority of head and neck cancer patients are over the age of 50. Men are two to three times more likely to develop the disease than women.

At MRO, we understand the uncertainty and uniqueness that comes with a head and neck cancer diagnosis. Our oncologists and supportive care teams are committed to helping you understand the complexities of the disease and how radiation treatment may help with your cancer. Our MRO oncologists offer a level of expertise that comes from working exclusively with radiation cancer treatments and patients every day. 

Technological advances and an increased awareness of the major risk factors for head and neck cancer have helped lead to a decline in incidence rates for the disease over the past few decades. Research and prevention efforts have also helped more patients survive the disease, while also helping improve their quality of life after treatment. Still, education about the various types of head and neck cancer, and their symptoms, potential side effects and available treatments, is as vital as ever.

Types of Head & Neck cancer

Head and neck cancers are classified according to the part of the body in which they occur. Risk factors, diagnosis and treatment may vary depending on the subtype of the disease. Below are some types of head and neck cancer.

Laryngeal cancer: The larynx is located at the top of the windpipe, or trachea. Also called the voice box, this tube-shaped organ is involved in breathing, talking and swallowing. The larynx also contains the epiglottis, a small piece of tissue that moves to cover the larynx and prevent food from entering the windpipe. Laryngeal cancer, a type of throat cancer, is one of the most common forms of head and neck cancer. Patients with laryngeal cancer often need voice rehabilitation after treatment to learn how to speak again. 

Hypopharyngeal cancer: The hypopharynx is the lower part of the throat, which surrounds the larynx. This part of the body is also called the gullet. Hypopharyngeal cancer is a type of throat cancer.

Nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer: Nasal cavity cancer forms in the space just behind the nose, where air passes on its way to the throat. This type of cancer may also develop in the air-filled areas that surround the nasal cavity, called the paranasal sinuses. Nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer are uncommon.

Salivary gland cancer: The salivary glands produce the saliva responsible for breaking down food. Salivary gland cancer is uncommon.

Oral cancer: Oral cancer forms in the mouth. The oral cavity includes the lips, the inside lining of the lips and cheeks, the teeth, the gums, the front of the tongue, the floor of the mouth, and the roof of the mouth. Oral cancer is the ninth most common cancer among men.

Oropharyngeal cancer: Oropharyngeal cancer forms in the oropharynx, which is the part of the throat just behind the mouth. The oropharynx includes the base of the tongue, the back of the roof of the mouth, the tonsils, and the side and back walls of the throat. Human papillomavirus (HPV), as well as tobacco and alcohol use, may increase a person’s risk of oropharyngeal cancer.

Radiation treatment options

Radiation treatment options are available and if radiation is the best choice for you – your MRO care team along will create a radiation treatment plan just for you to help you get back to your life in a timely manner.

External Beam Radiation Therapy (EBRT)