Head and Neck Cancer Overview

Head and Neck Cancer is a generic term used to covers a range of malignant tumours that can develop in or around the throat, larynx, nose, sinuses and mouth.

Head and Neck Cancer is the seventh most common cancer in the UK.  More than 3000 patients die each year from it and the effects of treatment can be devastating in some.  Around 650 patients are diagnosed and treated in Manchester each year.

These are the main types.

Oral Cancer

Oral cancers affect the mouth and tongue.  Treatment is usually through surgery with possible loss of function (eating, talking) and appearance.

Oropharyngeal Cancer

These are cancers of tonsils and back of the tongue (inside the throat).  These cancers are rapidly rising in incidence throughout most of the world.  Treatment is generally either through surgery via the mouth (using a laser or robot) or through chemotherapy and radiotherapy together.  Treatment can affect the ability to swallow.

Laryngeal and Hypopharyngeal Cancer

Laryngeal cancer affects the larynx or voice box, which is important for breathing, talking and swallowing.  Hypopharynx cancer affects the gullet – the lower part of the throat that surrounds the larynx.  Treatment of early cancers, through radiotherapy or laser surgery is often successful and preserves most functions.  More advanced cancers are treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy which can cause more loss of function.  when this fails or for very advanced tumours, surgery involves removing the voice box.

Cancer of the Nose and Sinuses

This cancer affects the space behind the nose and face.  These cancers are usually treated with surgery but that can involve removal of the cheek bone and eye.

Cancer of the Neck (Lymph Nodes), Salivary Glands and Thyroid Gland

These organs in the front and sides of the neck can be the origin of cancers or be involved in the spread of cancers (the lymph nodes).  Surgery in this area can affect vital nerves for facial movement, eating, speaking and shoulder movement.

There are several other areas in the head and neck that can be affected by cancer such as the brain and eyes but as these cancers are treated differently to those above they do not come under the classification of Head and Neck cancer.