Head and Neck Cancer


There are various types of head and neck cancers. The risk of developing these cancers are more for patients who are exposed to certain environmental factors or it depends on individual lifestyles such as tobacco, and alcohol
consumption. 85% of head and neck cancers are due to tobacco and alcohol. People infected with the papillomavirus (HPV) have a higher risk of throat and mouth cancers.


Tobacco smoking is the largest risk factor for head and neck cancer. Secondhand smoke will also increase cancer risk. Tobacco chewing is related to mouth cancer or oral cavity cancer. Excessive alcohol consumption is another largest factor for cancers related to mouth, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus. Men are more likely to get affected than women to develop these cancers. Age also plays an important role; these type of cancers affect people who are above 50 years. Certain types of illness are also related to head and neck cancer such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), HPV and two inherited genetic syndromes are Fanconi anemia and dyskeratosis congenital. Long hours of sun
exposure may cause lip and oral cancer. Radiation therapy given in high doses particularly done in the head or neck region may increase the risk of developing cancer. Poor nutrition and vitamin deficiency will increase cancer risk.


There are many types of cancers of the mouth and neck, along with there are some rare cancers, these include cancers in the sinuses i.e. air spaces in the bones of the face, salivary glands, or the nose or middle ear.

It occurs on the lip, on the front portion of the tongue, the most common areas are the side of the tongue or floor of the mouth.

It develops in different areas and covers the pharynx and the larynx (voicebox). The pharynx is divided
into 3 parts- the nasopharynx, the oropharynx and, the hypopharynx. The front part of the hypopharynx is larynx.

Esophagus (gullet) or windpipes (trachea) that are near to the throat are treated differently.

These cancers start in the cells that line the mouth, nose, and throat


The treatment plan for each patient depends upon many factors such as the area of the tumor located, stage of cancer, age of the person and his/her health conditions. Doctors use different treatments and technologies for head and neck cancers. These include: radiation, surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and targeted therapy, or they may combine a couple of treatments.

  • Surgery – Surgery is often done with a combination of radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
  • Immunotherapy – Is a type of cancer treatment that boost’s the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer cells. This therapy is used to stop or slow down the growth of the cancer cells. Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that is treated with Immunotherapy.
  • Targeted therapy – This treatment uses a drug which targets the changes in cancer cells that help them grow, divide or spread.
  • Chemotherapy – For head and neck cancer, chemotherapy treatment is done for patients whose cancer has widely spread to other parts of the body. This is an aggressive form of chemical drug therapy mainly used to destroy the fast growing cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy – This therapy uses beams of intense energy to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.


After surgery for head or neck, the patient’s ability to chew, swallow or talk will change. The face and neck may be swollen and this will take a few days to become normal. If the larynx is removed, or any other part in the neck or
throat then the patient may feel numb, the shoulder and the neck may become weak and stiff. If radiation is given, the patient may experience redness, irritation, and sores in the mouth, nausea, loss of taste, low appetite, earaches, and unable to open the mouth wide.


Various supportive care therapies are designed for patients to help them stay strong and maintain quality of life. These therapies include Nutritional support, pain management, and oncology rehabilitation.