Head and neck cancers

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with head or neck cancer, take a deep breath and know that we are here for you. In addition to providing you information, our highly skilled medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and compassionate staff will support you and your family every step of the way.

Your journey begins by learning more about your condition.

Cancers that are known collectively as head and neck cancers usually begin in the squamous cells that line the moist, mucosal surfaces inside the head and neck, such as inside the mouth, nose and throat. These squamous cell cancers are often referred to as squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck.

Head and neck cancers can also begin in the salivary glands, but salivary gland cancers are relatively uncommon. Salivary glands contain many types of cells that can become cancerous, so there are many different types of salivary gland cancer.

Cancers of the head and neck are further categorized by the area of the head or neck in which they begin:

Oral cavity: Includes the lips, the front two-thirds of the tongue, gums, lining inside the cheeks and lips, the floor (bottom) of the mouth under the tongue, the hard palate (bony top of the mouth), and the small area of the gum behind the wisdom teeth.

Pharynx: The pharynx (throat) is a hollow tube about 5 inches long that starts behind the nose and leads to the esophagus. It has three parts: the nasopharynx (the upper part of the pharynx, behind the nose); the oropharynx (the middle part of the pharynx, including the soft palate [the back of the mouth], the base of the tongue, and the tonsils); the hypopharynx (the lower part of the pharynx).

Larynx: The larynx, also called the voice box, is a short passageway formed by cartilage just below the pharynx in the neck. The larynx contains the vocal cords. It also has a small piece of tissue, called the epiglottis, which moves to cover the larynx to prevent food from entering the air passages.

Paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity: The paranasal sinuses are small, hollow spaces in the bones of the head surrounding the nose. The nasal cavity is the hollow space inside the nose.

Salivary glands: The major salivary glands are in the floor of the mouth and near the jawbone. The salivary glands produce saliva.

Learn more about the diagnosis and treatment options for head and neck cancers.

Also, talk with your oncologist about nutrition counseling, provided by our registered and licensed dietitian Shelly Kokkeler, MS, RD, CSO, LD, who has specialized in oncology nutrition for more than 30 years.