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Head and Neck Cancer

Risk Factors, Screening and Diagnosis | Personalized Treatment | Additional Patient Support

A wide range of tumors fall into the category of “head and neck cancer” and may involve the mouth, throat (pharynx) , voice box (larynx) , swallowing passages, salivary glands, thyroid and parathyroid glands, nasal passages, sinuses, and skin of the face, head and scalp. Brain tumors  are usually considered separately.

The experienced specialists at NorthShore Kellogg Cancer Center combine the most advanced scientific knowledge and technology with a comprehensive and compassionate approach to care. They create a program of personalized medicine and patient-centered care for each individual diagnosed with head and neck cancer.

Patients who are newly diagnosed have the added support of a specialized oncology nurse navigator to guide them through their diagnosis and cancer treatment.

Head and Neck Cancer Risk Factors, Screening and Diagnosis

Head and neck cancers can be particularly distressing because they may affect basic human functions, such as talking, eating or swallowing and physical appearance. 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

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

If head and neck cancer is suspected, a physician will review a patient’s medical history and conduct a physical exam. Diagnostic testing to identify specific cases of head and neck cancers could include:

  • Laryngoscopy or Endoscopy (a lighted scope passed into the nasal passages or mouth to better view the throat)
  • 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

Personalized Head and Neck Cancer Treatment

If a diagnosis of head and neck 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. Treatment will be recommended based on the stage and type of cancer.

Treatment for head and neck cancers is at the cutting edge at the Kellogg Cancer Center for patients at all stages. We offer innovative, minimally-invasive techniques including transoral laser and robotic microsurgeries to remove tumors of the mouth and throat and larynx. Many tumors of the sinonasal tract can be removed using endoscopes and micro instruments through the nose with the assistance of our multidisciplinary skull base team. In collaboration with our reconstructive surgeons, we use 3-D computer modeling to optimize function and aesthetics, ensuring the best possible quality of life of our patients after treatment.

As a substitute or in some cases in addition to surgery, patients may receive radiation therapy treatments with the intent of eradicating the cancer or any cancer cells that may be left behind after surgery. NorthShore’s radiation oncology team (radiation oncologists, radiation physicists and radiation therapists) uses leading-edge techniques and equipment to deliver the best personalized treatment for each patient.

In addition to surgical treatments, the Kellogg Cancer Center offers a series of clinical trials that are researching new state-of-art treatments to safely and effectively treat head and neck cancers.

Among the most promising developments in cancer treatment in recent years is immunotherapy. Unlike chemotherapy, which attacks cancer cells, immunotherapy targets the patient’s immune system, spurring the body’s own immune function to unleash an attack on the disease. NorthShore has been an early adopter of immunotherapy, offering progressive treatment options to our patients and supporting ongoing clinical trials and research to further advance this revolutionary field. We currently offer clinical trials incorporating immunotherapy prior to surgery or in addition to radiation.

Your cross functional team meets regularly in a multidisciplinary conference to discuss your case in detail and to design a personalized head and neck treatment plan. Your team may include your medical oncologistsurgeon, radiation oncologist, speech and swallowing therapist, geneticist, radiologist, pathologist, nutritionist, pharmacist, interventional radiologist, social worker and researchers, all focused on you. This "meeting of the minds" provides critical input, resulting in an individualized care plan outlining the best course of action for your individualized care.

Additional Patient Support

Kellogg Cancer Center’s unique services and resources assist patients and family members with a variety of challenges they may face from diagnosis, treatment and beyond. A wide array of support services are available to patients that include our integrative medicine services, financial advocacy and survivorship, to name a few.

We also feature a number of support groups for specific cancers. Our head and neck cancer program sponsors a Support for Patients with Oral and Head and Neck Cancer Group (SPOHNC). This group, part of a national network, meets every other month with a patient-focused lecture and a leader-guided support session.

The Kellogg Cancer Center also offers a comprehensive tobacco cessation program for patients and their families.

For More Information

For more information on head and neck symptoms and treatment or to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, please call 847.570.2112.