Head and neck cancer refers collectively to cancers that develop when tumors grow in the following areas:
- Oral cavity: all areas of the mouth, including lips, gums, and tongue
- Oropharynx: area of the mouth that connects to the neck
- Hypopharynx: bottom of the throat as it connects to the esophagus
- Nasopharynx: upper part of the throat behind the nose
- Nasal cavity: space inside the nose
- Salivary glands
- Larynx, or voice box
- Lymph nodes in the neck
Head and Neck Tumors
When tumors of the head or neck are discovered, careful examination is necessary to determine:
- Precise size and location of the tumor
- Nature of the tumor cells (malignant or benign)
- Extent and possible spread of tumor
- Treatment options
Diagnostic tests, including biopsies and radiological imaging, are used by our doctors to make decisions about how to proceed in the course of treatment. The combined expertise of our pathologists, radiologists, and other experienced specialists result in precise diagnosis.
- In the case of benign tumors, patients usually must undergo surgery to remove the tumor. Very large tumors may require reconstructive surgery. Reconstructive surgeries can be performed at the same time as the removal of the tumor, or at a later date. You will be able to make this decision based on consultations with your doctors.
- With malignant tumors, patients will have the opportunity to consult their doctors. In addition to surgery to remove the tumor, you'll be offered chemotherapy and/or radiation regimens, based on your type of cancer.
Treatment for head and neck cancers at MedStar Health is focused on surgical and radiation therapy techniques to minimize adverse side effects, promote faster healing, and bring about higher cure rates. The newest technologies focus on organ preservation and voice restoration, even for advanced tumors.
When patients respond to symptoms by seeking early medical evaluation, their outcome is dramatically improved. Disabilities are far less, and when larynx or voice box cancer is treated in its earlier stages, cure rates are 90 percent.
Each week, MedStar Health specialists in head and neck cancer meet to discuss new patients and collaborate on developing the most effective treatment plans. This group includes skilled and experienced specialists in:
- Otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat)
- Head and neck surgeons
- Medical Oncology
- Radiation Oncology
- Plastic Surgery
Surgery for head and neck cancers involves removing the tumor and possibly the lymph nodes in the neck. Your doctors' primary goals are to remove the causes of disease and restore your appearance and health. MedStar Health is one of the few health systems in the region performing transoral robotic surgery (TORS) for head and neck cancers. You can read more about that treatment here.
Radiation therapies and technologies we typically recommend for head and neck cancers include:
- Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) allows radiation beamlets (tiny beams) to move and change intensity depending on the type of tissue they are targeting. Rather than using one large radiation beam, the radiation is broken up into thousands of thin radiation beams. This procedure delivers high doses of radiation to the cancer tumor while limiting the exposure to nearby organs. It is a minimally invasive procedure and, therefore, may be easier on the patient than surgical procedures. IMRT accuracy is enhanced by IGRT.
- Image-Guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT) uses high-quality imaging technology to create pictures of a tumor during the radiation procedure. Using these images, your radiation oncology team carefully adjusts radiation beams and doses during the procedure to best fit the size, shape, and location of the tumor, while sparing normal tissues. IGRT can integrate respiratory and cardiac motion technology to track the exact position of a tumor while a patient is breathing. IGRT is primarily used for patients whose tumors are directly adjacent to critical structures when an immediately adjacent area has been previously irradiated or when dose escalation is planned and where conventional means of targeting are deemed to be inadequate.
- CyberKnife Treatment: From the outset, MedStar Franklin Square has used CyberKnife to treat cancers that begin within or spread to the head and neck. Used alone or with IMRT (Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy) and chemotherapy, CyberKnife attacks tumors of the head and neck. Before treatment, patients are outfitted with a custom-made, lightweight, open-mesh facemask to assure that the targeted tumor is in exactly the same position for each session. Learn more about CyberKnife treatment.