About Head and Neck Cancer

A wide range of tumors fall into the category of “head and neck cancer” and may involve the mouth, throat, voice box, swallowing passages, salivary glands, nasal passages, sinuses, and the skin of the face, head and scalp. These cancers can be particularly distressing because they may affect both basic human functions, such as talking, eating or swallowing, and physical appearance. These types of cancers are estimated to be diagnosed in as many as 50,000 people annually.

Some factors known to contribute to the risk of developing head and neck cancers include:

  • Tobacco Smoking
  • Chewing tobacco
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection

White patches inside the mouth, called leukoplakia, may be considered a risk factor; this condition becomes cancerous in approximately 10-20 percent of patients.

Some of the symptoms for many head and neck cancers include non-healing mouth sores, pain with swallowing, persistent sore throat, difficulty swallowing, pain in the ear, shortness of breath, spitting or coughing up blood, and a lump or lymph node in the neck.

Head and Neck Cancer Screening & Diagnosis

If head and neck cancer is suspected, a physician will review a patient’s medical history and conduct a physical exam. The physician may order a variety of diagnostic tests to identify specific cases of head and neck cancers. These tests could include:

  • Laryngoscopy or Endoscopy
  • Laboratory tests to examine samples of blood, urine, or other substances from the body.
  • X-rays, including CT scan, Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or PET scan to produce images of the suspicious areas
  • Biopsy of a mass in the neck, mouth, throat or larynx

If a diagnosis of cancer is made, a physician will determine the severity or stage of the cancer, including whether it has spread to other areas of the body.  Each cancer type has its own classification system. Treatment will be recommended based on the stage and type of cancer.

Multispecialty Team

NorthShore University HealthSystem physicians and the team at the Kellogg Cancer Center work collaboratively and are dedicated to putting patients and families at the center of a healthcare experience that delivers compassionate, quality care.

Every week, our multidisciplinary team meets to discuss each patient’s case in detail and to design a personalized treatment plan. Your team may include your medical oncologistsurgeon, radiation oncologist, pathologist, radiologist, nutritionist, collaborative nurses, speech and swallowing therapists, genetics counselor and researchers focused on you. This meeting of the minds provides each patient with an individualized care plant to create the path for the most successful outcome. Our approach emphasizes open communication, collaborating with each other personally and through one of the most advanced electronic medical records systems in the country.

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