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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, voice box, swallowing passages, salivary glands, thyroid and parathyroid glands, nasal passages, sinuses, skin of the face, head and scalp.

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

Drawing from the diverse experience of physicians, surgeons, nurses, researchers and a host of other highly trained healthcare professionals, the Kellogg Cancer Center team works collaboratively and is dedicated to putting patients—and families—at the center of a healthcare experience that delivers compassionate, quality care.

Patients who are newly diagnosed with head and neck cancer 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 both 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. 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

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 with the ultimate goal of preserving the structure and function of the affected region. We offer innovative, minimally-invasive techniques including transoral laser and robotic microsurgeries to remove tumors of the mouth and throat. Many tumors of the sinonasal tract can be removed using endoscopes and microinstruments 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 the function and aesthetics, ensuring the best possible quality of life of our patients after treatment. The Kellogg Cancer Center is also one of a few centers in the country offering sentinel lymph node biopsy for patients with early-stage oral cavity cancers. 

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. For decades, researchers have been trying to understand why the body’s immune system does not see cancer cells as foreign and attack them. 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.

Every week, your cross functional team meets in a multidisciplinary conference to discuss your case in detail and to design a personalized head and neck treatment plan. For head and neck cancer, your team may include your medical oncologistsurgeon, radiation oncologistgeneticist, 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. 

Patients are at the center of this multidisciplinary team, and Kellogg staff arrange for them to be seen by their multidisciplinary team at one appointment, not only for their convenience but to provide a consensus on their course of treatment. Our use of one of the most advanced Electronic Medical Record (EMR) systems in the country enhances our open communication and promotes collaboration in our patient 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.

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.