Head & Neck Cancer

A variety of types and locations of cancers affect the head and neck. These require difficult treatments that are further complicated by their proximity to the brain, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and throat.

Cancers of the head and neck are categorized by the area of the head or neck in which they begin.

  • Oral Cancer
    • Oral cavity: Includes lips, the front two-thirds of the tongue, gums, the lining inside the cheeks and lips, the bottom of the mouth under the tongue, the hard palate, and the small area of the gum behind the wisdom teeth. 
    • Salivary glands: The major salivary glands are in the floor of the mouth and near the jawbone. The salivary glands produce saliva. 
  • Nasal Cancer
    • Paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity: The small hollow spaces in the bones of the head surrounding the nose. The nasal cavity is the hollow space inside the nose. 
  • Throat and Neck Cancer
    • Neck: External tissues of the neck, and is separate from the internal structures like the throat or esophogus. 
    • Pharynx: The pharynx or throat is a hollow tube about 5 inches long that starts behind the nose and leads to the esophagus. 
    • Larynx: also called the voicebox, is a short passageway formed by cartilage just below the pharynx in the neck, which contains the vocal cords. It also has a small piece of tissue, called the epiglottis, which moves to cover the larynx to prevent food from entering the air passages. 
Head & Neck cancers are caused by a variety of issues, however a majority are caused from side-effects of smoking or from infection by the human papilloma virus (HPV).  

All head and neck cancers significantly increase the incidence of trismus, with studies showing limited range-of-motion (ROM) in more than 50% of head and neck cancer patients. The cancers themselves, or trauma from the treatment, can cause trismus, sometimes years later. A common side effect of radiation is immediate or progressing muscle stiffness that often restricts opening the jaw, especially in cases near the jaw, ears, and upper neck.
           

Other side effects of cancer treatment include dry mouth, infection, dental cavities, and bone damage.

Treatment

  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Surgery

Resources

  1. Oral Cancer Foundation
  2. National Cancer Institute - Head and Neck Cancer
  3. SPOHNC - Support for People with Oral and Head and Neck Cancer
  4. AAO-HNS - American Academy of Otololaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery
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