Understanding Your Disease
What is cancer of the head and neck?
Most types of head and neck cancer start in the cells lining the open cavities of the head and neck, such as the sinuses, nasal cavity, mouth, or throat. Other kinds of head and neck cancer can occur in the salivary glands. These glands produce the fluid, called “saliva” or spit, that keeps your mouth and throat moist. Cancer of the brain and thyroid is not classified as head and neck cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute, head and neck cancer accounts for nearly 3 to 5 percent of all cancer in the United States. These types of cancer are more common in men and in people older than age 50. Around 47,560 men and women in this country develop head and neck cancer every year. Tobacco and alcohol use are common risk factors for this cancer.
How is head and neck cancer treated?
There are several ways that doctors can treat head and neck cancer, including:
- Surgery, where a part or all of the tumor or cancer cells are removed.
- Chemotherapy, where certain drugs are used to kill cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy, where waves of energy are sent to kill cancer cells in and around the tumor.
Often, these treatments are used together. This guide is only about radiation therapy.