Head and Neck
What Is Head and Neck Cancer?
This group of cancers affects soft tissues behind your face, below your brain or in the upper throat. Head and neck cancer can occur in your:
- Nasal cavity, inner part of the nose
- Oral cavity, including the lips, inside of the cheeks and front two-thirds of the tongue
- Oropharyngeal cancer is found in an area of the throat called your oropharynx
- Salivary glands
- Sinuses, air pockets behind your nose and forehead that support air flow and produce mucus
- Throat, including your windpipe and voice box
- Tonsils (adenoids)
Head and Neck Cancer Treatment at the Cancer Network: Why Choose Us?
Head and neck cancer care often includes surgery. At the Cancer Network, you receive services from highly skilled surgeons who use research-based methods. These include Mercy Health, University of Michigan Health-West and University of Michigan Health Rogel Cancer Center. Many locations have American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer accreditation. This prestigious designation is only awarded to programs that maintain high care standards. Learn more about us.
Symptoms are mild at first. You may confuse them with common illnesses, like a cold or strep throat. But they gradually worsen causing discomfort that affects daily life.
The head and neck cancer symptoms you experience depend on the tumor’s location and may include:
- Blood in your saliva
- Pain and difficulty swallowing
- Hoarse voice
- Nonhealing mouth sores
- Red or white patches in the mouth
- Numbness affecting your face, jaw or tongue
- Sore throat
- Stuffy nose that does not get better
We use a variety of methods to diagnose head and neck cancer. Your care starts with a physical exam. This may include using a handheld light to assess areas that are easy to reach, such as your mouth or the top of your throat.
To examine areas that are harder to access, you may need tests, such as:
- Endoscopy: We slide a thin and flexible tube with a camera at the tip up your nostrils or down your throat to check for abnormal growths.
- Biopsy: Doctors take a tissue sample and examine it under a microscope. This test helps us confirm or rule out cancer.
- Imaging: You may need a CT scan, PET/CT, MRI, or other imaging studies. If cancer is present, these tests pinpoint the location of it and help us plan therapies.
- Surgery: Head and neck cancer surgery involves removing the cancer and a small rim of surrounding tissue. We tailor our approach, so you receive the most effective procedure for your needs.
- Reconstructive surgery: If surgeons remove large sections of tissue, you may undergo reconstructive surgery in the same procedure. We use tissue from other areas of the body to restore functioning to your jaw, tongue or other affected areas.
- Chemotherapy and other medical oncology: Anticancer drugs and other substances slow abnormal cell growth. You receive therapies in comfortable infusion suites where attentive nurses monitor your care.
- Radiation oncology: You may need radiation therapy after surgery to eliminate trace levels of cancer. We use radiation to deliver focused treatments that destroy cancer cells’ ability to multiply.
Cancer Network services are available at several locations across West Michigan. Each facility represents the full strength, compassion and expertise we have to offer. Our integrated approach makes it easier to receive care where you’re most comfortable — near home and loved ones.