What are head and neck cancers?

Head and neck cancers form in the mouth, sinuses, nose, or throat.

Symptoms of head and neck cancer include:

  • Swelling or lump in the neck not explained by infection or virus
  • Open sores in the mouth
  • Bleeding in the mouth or throat with continuous pain
  • A mass or lesion that is painful and impedes speech or swallowing

With any symptoms or concerns, it is best to consult with either your primary care provider or an ear, nose and throat specialist right away so treatment can begin in the early stages of the disease.

What causes head and neck cancers?

Smoking and tobacco use - the most common causes of cancer in the head and neck is smoking and tobacco use. Quitting can significantly reduce the chances of developing cancer.

Human Papilloma  Virus (HPV) - certain strains of HPV can cause cancer in the back of the throat including the tonsils or base of the tongue. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States and is usually referred to as “genital warts.” Getting vaccinated against the Human Papilloma  Virus (HPV) is recommended for all girls and boys age 11-12 before they become sexually active. Studies show at this age, the body can generate a better immune response.

How are head and neck cancers diagnosed?

You may need tests to determine what type or stage of cancer. We can perform fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy for neck masses. The needle in the procedure is very thin so the process is virtually painless. Your otolaryngologist is able to retrieve enough tissue to make an accurate diagnosis of a number of problems, such as inflammation or cancer.
You may also have imaging for diagnosis, staging and follow-up including high-resolution ultrasound and PET scan.

How are head and neck cancers treated?

At Guthrie, we have a comprehensive evaluation and diagnosis process for head and neck cancer. You meet with a group of doctors from different specialties who take a team approach to your care. In one meeting called a “conference,” each doctor, from otolaryngology, oncology, plastic and reconstructive surgery and oral surgery, examines you. Together, with you, the team develops a treatment plan.

Depending on the stage, location and extent of the cancer, your treatment may involve one or more of the following: surgery; chemotherapy; radiation therapy.

At Guthrie, we also have an interventional oncology team who can offer less invasive treatments.

After treatment we help you on your survivor journey with the following support services:

  • Speech therapy
  • Swallowing therapy
  • Nutrition counseling

A diagnosis of cancer can be a scary time that leaves you unsure. You can rely on the team at Guthrie to support you through your cancer journey.