Head and neck cancer is a term used to describe a number of different malignant tumors that develop in or around the throat, larynx, nose, sinuses, and mouth (see below).
Most head and neck cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. This type of cancer begins in the flat, squamous cells that make up the thin layer of tissue on the surface of the structures in the head and neck. Directly beneath this lining, which is called the epithelium, some areas of the head and neck have a layer of moist tissue, called the mucosa. If a cancer is limited to the squamous layer of cells, it is called carcinoma in situ. If the cancer has grown beyond this cell layer and moved into the deeper tissue, then it is called invasive squamous cell carcinoma.
If a head and neck cancer starts in the salivary glands, the tumor will usually be classified as an adenocarcinoma, adenoid cystic carcinoma, or mucoepidermoid carcinoma.
There are five main types of head and neck cancer, each named according to the part of the body where they develop. For more information about a specific type, click on one of the names below.
Orange County CyberKnife & Radiation Oncology Center is the premier choice for treating head and neck cancers in Southern California. Head and neck cancers involve the formation of abnormal cells, usually beginning in the squamous cells that line the moist surfaces inside the mouth, nose, and throat. These “squamous cell carcinomas” can also start in the salivary glands, but this is much less likely. Cancers of the throat, lips, mouth, nose, larynx, and salivary glands are all considered head and neck cancers.
More than 65,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed this year with head and neck cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. Men are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed. Those older than 50 are also more likely to develop a head or neck cancer. If you use tobacco products, drink alcohol heavily or are infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV), you are also more at risk for this type of cancer.
Every person’s cancer is different. The type of cancer, how much it has developed and spread, your age and medical history, and your opinions are all taken into consideration by the medical oncology specialists at Orange County CyberKnife when determining a treatment plan. That treatment may include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Many times, a combination of treatment types are used for the best results. With cancers of the head and neck, it is especially important to keep healthy tissue and organs from being damaged by treatment of the cancerous cells. Because of this, doctors will sometimes elect to use chemotherapy and radiation therapy to shrink or even wipe out the tumor, so there is no need for surgery. The team of cancer experts at Orange County CyberKnife, will work with your medical team to develop the best options for your individual case. Besides surgery, treatment options for head & neck cancer include:
Chemotherapy uses cancer-killing drugs to shrink or eliminate the cancerous cells. It is administered by pill or IV and travels to all parts of the body. Chemotherapy is often used along with radiation therapy for best results.
Orange County CyberKnife experts have a host of advanced radiation technologies at their hands to develop the best plan for your specific cancer. One of these latest technologies, the CyberKnife Robotic Radiosurgery System, is clinically proven to effectively treat head and neck cancer. The CyberKnife system uses a flexible, robotic arm that can reach your cancerous cells at hundreds of different angles. That feature works with a high-tech imaging system that tracks even the tiniest movement of your tumor and adjusts as needed to precisely target and kill your cancerous cells. This targeted therapy limits unwanted exposure of nearby tissue and organs, helping to eliminate side effects. CyberKnife is also has a much shorter treatment time than more traditional radiation therapies. It is administered in our outpatient office on a comfortable treatment couch for four to five short sessions, once per day. More traditional treatments can last daily up to 45 days. The CyberKnife system utilizes a flexible, comfortable mask to steady your head, rather than a metal frame bolted to a table like other systems. Radiation therapy may be used alone or in combination with chemotherapy or biologic therapy.
3-dimensional conformal radiotherapy (3D-CRT) – combines multiple radiation treatment fields to deliver precise doses of radiation to the affected area. Tailoring each of the radiation beams to focus on the tumor delivers a high dose of radiation to the tumor and avoids nearby healthy tissue.
Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) – is the most recent advance in the delivery of radiation. IMRT improves on 3D-CRT by modifying the intensity of the radiation within each of the radiation beams. This allows more precise adjustment of radiation doses to the tissues within the target area.
Internal radiation therapy involves inserting radioactive material into a tumor or surrounding tissue. For head and neck cancers, brachytherapy is often used with external beam radiation therapy, but it may be used alone. During brachytherapy, your radiation oncologist places thin, hollow, plastic tubes into the tumor and surrounding tissue. These tubes are loaded with tiny radioactive seeds that remain in place for a short time to kill the cancer. The seeds and the tubes are then removed. With low-dose-rate brachytherapy, the seeds will be left in place for one to three days. For high-dose-rate brachytherapy, a single radioactive seed stops at various positions along the tubes for short times to deliver an equivalent dose. The exact type of brachytherapy and lengths of time the seeds are in place will depend on your cancer and treatment plan.
Don’t begin treatment for your head or neck cancer without finding out all of the treatment options available to you. Call us today at 714.962.7100 and speak to our cancer experts. We will answer all your questions and explain your treatment options in a language that is easy to understand. Or, ask your questions using our convenient online form. We want you to understand how radiation therapies can help you knock down your head and neck cancer. We welcome your call or visit!
Certain factors can make one person more likely to get head and neck cancer than another person. These are called risk factors. However, just because you have one or more risk factors does not mean that you will definitely get head and neck cancer. In fact, you can have many risk factors and still not develop the disease. On the other hand, you can have no risk factors and still get head and neck cancer.
Many people with head and neck cancer experience symptoms such as:
These symptoms may be caused by cancer or by other problems. It is important to see a doctor about any symptoms like these so that the problem can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.
A Many people with cancer get a second opinion from another doctor. There are many reasons to get a second opinion. Here are some of those reasons:
There are many ways to get a second opinion:
Ask a primary care doctor. Your doctor may be able to recommend a specialist. This may be a surgeon, medical oncologist, or radiation oncologist. Sometimes these doctors work together at cancer centers or programs.
Call the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service. The number is 8004CANCER (8004226237). They provide information about treatment facilities, including cancer centers and other programs supported by the National Cancer Institute.
Seek other options. Check with a local medical society, hospital, medical school, or cancer advocacy group to get names of doctors who can give you a second opinion. Or ask other people who have had your type of cancer to refer you to someone.
Treatment depends on the type of cancer you have, where it is, and its stage. Common treatments for head and neck cancer include radiation, surgery, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy.