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Head and Neck Cancer Care

Doctors diagnose around 48,000 new head and neck cancers each year in the U.S.

Thyroid cancer — a form of endocrine cancer — affects the thyroid gland, which is in the neck. Doctors diagnose about 37,000 cases yearly.

Because they can affect the way we breathe, speak, swallow, and look, cancers of the head and neck require exceptionally sensitive treatment.

At UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, we have extensive experience in traditional and novel approaches to head and neck cancer care including minimally invasive surgery. Minimally invasive surgical techniques can reduce the effect head and neck cancers have on your everyday functioning.

Our multidisciplinary team addresses the many aspects of head and neck cancer in a coordinated way. We care for the whole patient — not just your cancer.

What Is Head and Neck Cancer?

Cancer is the result of rapid and abnormal cell growth.

About 90 percent of head and neck cancers are squamous cell carcinomas — cancers that form in the squamous cells of the epithelium.

The epithelium is a distinct tissue type that lines many structures of the body, such as the:

  • Mouth
  • Nose
  • Throat
  • Sinuses

Glands also include epithelial tissue, along with other types of cells. This makes the salivary, thyroid, and parathyroid glands vulnerable to squamous cell carcinoma.

Exposure to carcinogens — such as tobacco and alcohol — is the main cause of most head and neck cancers.

Increasing evidence suggests that the human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes cervical cancer, may also cause some head and neck cancers.

Types of Head and Neck Cancers

The names of head and neck cancers refer to the structures they affect.

Types of head and neck cancers include:

  • Hypopharyngeal cancer — this cancer starts in the hypopharynx, the part of the throat (pharynx) that's beside and behind the larynx. The hypopharynx is the entrance into the esophagus.
  • Laryngeal cancer — this cancer affects the larynx, the part of the throat between the back of the tongue and the trachea (windpipe). The larynx contains the vocal cords.
  • Metastatic squamous neck cancer — this cancer occurs when squamous cell carcinoma has spread from another part of the body to the lymph nodes.
  • Nasopharyngeal cancer — the nasopharynx is the upper part of the throat. It starts behind the nose and ends at the top of the trachea and esophagus. The nostrils lead into the nasopharynx. The nasopharynx also includes passages that lead into the ears.
  • Oral cavity cancer — this family of cancers can affect the lips, gums, tongue, cheek linings, floor of the mouth, or roof of the mouth.
  • Oropharyngeal cancer — the oropharynx is the middle of the throat. It includes the back of the tongue, lining of the throat, tonsils, and parts of the back of the roof of the mouth.
  • Paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer — the paranasal sinuses are four groups of hollow spaces in the bones near the nose. The nose leads to the nasal cavity, which begins above the roof of the mouth and extends to the throat.
  • Salivary gland cancer — this rare type of cancer forms in the salivary glands. These include the parotids (in front of and below the ears), the sublinguals (under the tongue), and the submandibular (below the jaw). There are two of each of these glands, but cancer usually affects only one.

Why Choose UPMC for Head and Neck Cancer Care?

Our surgical, medical, and radiation oncologists work with referring doctors and other cancer specialists to provide complete, compassionate care.

We are the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in western Pennsylvania.

This means you have access to clinical trials of advanced head and neck cancer treatments that may not be available elsewhere.

To learn more about head and neck cancer care at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, call us at 412-647-2811. Or, complete a head and neck cancer contact form.

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Head and Neck Cancer Treatment Program

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center employs a multidisciplinary approach to treating head and neck cancers to provide a complete continuum of care.

Learn more about our treatment program.
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Treatments for Head and Neck Cancer

Our oncologists offer a full range of treatments, including traditional and minimally invasive surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

Read more about treatment options.