February 01, 2021

Head and neck cancers

Advances in treatment

Innovations in surgery, radiation, and immunotherapy and other areas have made treating for head and neck cancers more targeted, less likely to result in side effects and more effective.

Head and neck cancers

Years ago, a diagnosis of head or neck cancer often meant you were facing a challenging course of treatment, as well as the prospect of burdensome side effects such as trouble swallowing and difficulty speaking.

Today, it's a different — and more hopeful — story. There have been innovations in the areas of surgery, radiation, immunotherapy and more that aim to more effectively treat disease and lessen side effects.

Head and neck cancers are a broad category of cancers that occur in that region of the body. These include cancers in the mouth, throat (pharynx), tongue, tonsils, voice box (larynx), nasal cavity, nasal sinuses and other nearby areas.

Causes

Flat, thin cells known as squamous cells line surfaces such as your lips, your sinuses, and the inside of your mouth and throat. Cancer development in these cells is known as squamous cell carcinoma. This is the most common type of head and neck cancer.

Risk factors for head and neck cancers include tobacco use and excessive consumption of alcohol, especially together. As smoking has become less common, new cases of certain types of head and neck cancers have decreased.

However, other types are on the rise. The human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cervical and rectal cancers, can also lead to cancer of the oropharynx area of the throat (oropharyngeal cancer). This cancer can involve the tonsils and the base of the tongue. It's thought that HPV is transmitted to the throat through oral-to-genital sexual contact.

New cases of oropharyngeal...