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Head and neck cancer

Finding out you have cancer is always life changing. But learning you have a type of head and neck cancer can be especially worrisome.

At The Christ Hospital Health Network, our cancer care team is mindful of the unique medical and personal challenges that often come with head and neck cancer. With your strength and determination, and our expertise, together we'll fight your cancer and manage any long-term side effects that may linger after treatment.

When we create your treatment plan, we carefully consider which options will work best. And we remain sensitive to how treatments may affect your appearance, ability to speak or swallow, sense of smell or taste and other functions.

Above all, our goal is to minimize side effects—while providing you with the best treatment options available.

About head and neck cancer

There are approximately 25 different organs, glands, muscles, cavities and other structures inside your head and neck. These include:

  • Larynx (voicebox)—a tube in your neck that contains your vocal cords.

  • Nasal cavity—the hollow space inside your nose that air passes through when you breathe.

  • Oral cavity—the oral cavity is another name for your mouth. It includes your lips, gums, front of the tongue, cheek lining and hard palate (the bone at the top of your mouth).

  • Pharynx (throat)—a hollow tube that starts behind your nose and runs down into the esophagus. It is divided into three sections called the nasopharynx, oropharynx and hypopharynx.

  • Salivary glands—glands that make saliva. Three major pairs are on the floor of your mouth (under your tongue) and near your jawbone.

  • Thyroid gland—a gland in the base of your neck that produces hormones. These hormones regulate many bodily functions including metabolism and body temperature.

When cancer grows in one of these areas, it may be broadly referred to as "head and neck cancer." There are actually many different kinds of head and neck cancer. Examples include:
  • Laryngeal (larynx) cancer (also known as vocal cord cancer)

  • Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) (cancer in the tissues of the upper part of the throat behind the nose)

  • Oral cancer (including lip cancer, gum cancer and tongue cancer)

  • Oropharyngeal cancer (cancer in the middle part of the throat that includes the base of the tongue, the tonsils, the soft palate, and the walls of the pharynx)

  • Paranasal sinus cancer (cancer of the air-filled spaces that surround the nasal cavity)

  • Salivary gland tumors

  • Throat cancer

  • Thyroid cancer

Anyone can get head and neck cancer, but most people who develop head and neck cancer have a history of using alcohol or tobacco products (like cigarettes and chewing tobacco). People who use both alcohol and tobacco, instead of one or the other, have the highest risk for developing head and neck cancer.

People infected with certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) are also at increased risk, especially for "oropharyngeal cancers" that grow on the tonsils or the base of the tongue. The number of oral cancers caused by HPV infection has grown significantly during the last couple of decades—and often strikes at a much younger age. 

Why choose The Christ Hospital Health Network

If you have head or neck cancer, you want care from experts you can trust. Our cancer specialists are not only at the top of their fields, they also understand you are much more than just a cancer that needs to be cured.

At The Christ Hospital Health Network, we offer an exceptional experience that meets all your needs:

  • Our collaboration ensures you'll receive the most comprehensive care available. You'll work with your own team of medical experts, including otolaryngologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and gastroenterologists. Each of these experts specializes in a different kind of head and neck cancer therapy. Together they create a plan to treat your cancer, and track your progress along the way.

  • Our cancer treatments are based on sound evidence and national guidelines, so you can rest assured your care is leading-edge. Just as important, our cancer care team is as compassionate as they are knowledgeable.

  • Our expansive health network includes speech therapists, physical therapists and other rehabilitation specialists. Whether you are having trouble speaking or swallowing, or have pain and stiffness in your neck, we'll make sure you get the therapy you need, when you need it.

  • Our support services are an important part of any treatment plan. For example, you can talk to a social worker or financial counselor, or work with one of our dietitians or join a support group.

  • Our integrative medicine services promote calm and healing. You can take advantage of our Tai Chi classes, chair yoga, music therapy, pet therapy and more.

  • Our doctors take part in a variety of clinical trials that test new treatments for head and neck cancer. For example, we've been on the front lines studying immunotherapy drugs, called checkpoint inhibitors, for people whose cancer has come back and isn't responding to conventional treatments.

  • Our survivorship services include long-term care plans and other resources for patients who have completed treatment.

At each step along your journey, we'll help you make the important decisions that impact your immediate treatment, your recovery and your long-term quality of life.

Learn how head and neck cancers are diagnosed and treated at The Christ Hospital Health Network.