Head and Neck Cancer

Head and neck cancer is a term used to describe cancers that originate in the head or neck area. Cancers of the head and neck are often identified by the site in which they originate.

Traditionally, sites of head and neck cancer include:

  • Oral cavity (mouth, lips, gums, cheeks, tongue, tonsils and mouth floor)
  • Salivary glands
  • Nasal cavity / paranasal sinuses / nasopharynx
  • Throat / pharynx
  • Larynx / voice box

Tumors treated include, but are not limited to those of the:

  • Upper aerodigestive tract, including mouth, jaw, throat and larynx
  • Thyroid
  • Skin of the head and neck, including melanoma
  • Salivary glands
  • Nose and paranasal sinuses
  • Ear and temporal bone
  • Neck and metastases to the neck
  • Sarcomas of the head and neck
  • Tumors of the skull base
  • Head and neck tumors in children
  • Otolaryngologic maladies in patients with tumors elsewhere in the body


Symptoms of head and neck cancers vary by cancer type. General symptoms may include:

  • Swelling, soreness, pain (face, throat, neck, mouth, etc.)
  • Sores that don’t heal or lumps that don’t go away
  • Paralysis on one side of the face
  • Trouble swallowing or breathing
  • A change or hoarseness in the voice

Having one or more of the symptoms listed above does not necessarily mean you have a head and neck cancer. However, it is important to discuss any symptoms with your doctor, since they may indicate other health problems.


Early detection of head and neck cancers are very important for the best possible outcome. If found early, many head and neck cancers are considered curable. Understanding the risks and symptoms of head and neck cancers can lead to an earlier diagnosis. Any problems you find in your mouth, throat, nose and lymph nodes in your neck should be discussed with your doctor promptly.


Treatments for head and neck cancers include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or a combination of these treatments. Before deciding on the best treatment option, it is important to understand how that treatment option may affect the way the person eats, breathes, looks and/or talks. Many head and neck patients will require rehabilitation after treatment, including occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and/or reconstructive surgery.

Clinical Trials

New treatments are always being tested in clinical trials and some patients with cancer may want to consider participating in one of these research studies. These studies are meant to help improve current cancer treatments or obtain information on new treatments. Talk to your doctor about the clinical trials that may be right for you.

This is Your Hospital

Tell Us Why St. Jude is Your Hospital.

Tell My Story
This is Your Hospital