Head & Neck Cancers: Questions & Answers

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Head and Neck Cancer is the term given to a variety of tumors located in the head and neck region including the:

  • mouth
  • throat
  • larynx
  • sinuses and nasal cavity
  • larynx
  • thyroid
  • salivary glands

Also included in this classification are lesions of the skin on the face and neck and the cervical lymph nodes. Tumors of the brain are usually excluded from this definition because they are treated using different approaches.

According to the American Cancer Society over 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with head and neck cancer each year. Currently, more than 400,000 survivors of oral and head and neck cancer are living in the United States.

Side effects from treatment of head and neck cancers can greatly affect quality of life. IMRT treatment planning is done to focus the required amount of radiation to the tumor and lymph nodes while limiting the radiation exposure to normal surrounding tissues, such as the salivary glands. This requires precise alignment every day of treatment and a custom face mask helps ensure that precision. Radio-protective agents also may be used during treatment to decrease normal tissue reactions and preserve salivary function. These techniques lead to quicker recovery from treatment, improved healing, and better quality-of-life for our patients.

Usually after 2-3 weeks of radiation therapy there is a decrease in taste and soreness in the mouth that progressively increase. Due to this, eating becomes more difficult.  However, it is important to try to maintain your weight. A PEG tube (a feeding tube inserted through the abdominal wall) is usually placed before treatment so that as your oral intake decreases, your nutrition and hydration can be maintained with supplements and liquids through the PEG tube.

Most likely, you will also need to see a dentist prior to radiation to assess your dental status. Further discussion of this will be done by your radiation oncologist and the dentist.