The fight against head and neck cancer: Diagnosis and treatment

April 16, 2021

By: John Cramer, M.D., Wayne Health Department of Otolaryngology

Head and neck cancers account for about 4% of new cancer cases each year in the United States and can include cancer of the oral cavity, larynx, pharynx, nasal cavity, salivary glands and sinuses. The good news is that most head and neck cancers are preventable. Many of them are caused by tobacco or alcohol use or human papillomavirus (HPV). If caught early, head and neck cancer is highly curable. April 11-16 is Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week – a great time to be educated on the facts of head and neck cancer.

What is head and neck cancer?

Head and neck cancer is the rapid growth of abnormal cells that usually starts in the mouth, nose or throat area. These cancers can spread rapidly to nearby lymph nodes and other organs.

How is head and neck cancer treated?

Treatment for head and neck cancer depends upon the type of cancer and how far it has spread to other organs. Your physician may recommend surgery to remove the cancer, and may also recommend medication, radiation or chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells. In early-stage cases, treatment with primary surgery or radiation therapy is likely curable. In advanced-stage cases, patients often need combinations of treatments which may include chemotherapy.

What to expect with head and neck cancer treatment

Cancer treatment side effects vary widely based on the type of cancer and the selected treatment. Your physician may recommend you consult with a dietitian or a speech and swallowing therapist. If the side effects are bad enough, your physician may recommend nutrition through a feeding tube.

How can you care for yourself when you have head or neck cancer?

  • Take your medication exactly as prescribed by your physician.
    • Call your doctor if you have any problems with your medication. Medicine is available to relieve nausea and vomiting side effects.
  • Eat a healthy diet
    • Try to eat food that has protein and extra calories
    • Drink liquid meal replacements
    • Eat your main meal early in the day
    • Try eating small, frequent meals rather than one or two large ones
  • Stay physically active
  • Learn relaxation techniques
    • Share your feelings with others
    • Join a support group
    • Express yourself through art
    • If you need it, discuss your concerns with a doctor, counselor or another health professional

Wayne Health head and neck cancer physicians are affiliated with Karmanos Cancer Institute, one of just 51 National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the U.S. Wayne Health physicians and providers and the KCI are at the forefront of cancer research and can provide patients access to the latest clinical trials and advanced, multidisciplinary cancer care. To set up an appointment with a Wayne Health otolaryngologist, visit our website or call 877-929-6342.

The fight against head and neck cancer: Diagnosis and treatment
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