Head & Neck Cancer

The IU Health cancer team provides advanced testing, care and treatment for you as a whole person

As with all cancers, the earlier that your physicians can diagnose head and neck cancers, the better your outlook for recovery and return to a normal lifestyle.

Head and neck cancers occur twice as often in men as they do in women, but overall are relatively uncommon.

The IU Health cancer team will provide advanced testing, care and treatment for you as a whole person. They consider you an important part of your care team.

Cancers of the head and neck include those on the:

  • Skin of the head and neck (squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas and melanoma)
  • Inside of the nose and sinuses
  • Mouth and throat
  • Salivary glands
  • Thyroid gland
  • Base of the skull

Head & Neck Cancer Symptoms

Common symptoms for cancers of the head and neck include:

  • Skin bumps or sores that do not heal
  • Mouth or throat ulcers that persist longer than two weeks
  • A sore throat that does not go away
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Double vision
  • Change or hoarseness in the voice
  • Blocked sinuses
  • An unexplained lump in the cheek or neck

Head & Neck Cancer Risk Factors

Many tumors originating in the head and neck share some common risk factors, including:

  • Tobacco use (plays a role in about 85 percent of head and neck cancers)
  • Alcohol use
  • Consumption of preserved or salted foods during childhood
  • Human papilloma virus (HPV) infection (a sexually transmitted disease)
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Some occupational exposures to wood, metal, formaldehyde and other substances
  • Ultraviolet light exposure

How We Can Help

As the largest group of head and neck surgical oncologists in the state, the IU Health cancer team has expertise with even rare cancers. They constantly refine existing techniques and develop new ones that enable them to remove tumors with less damage to surrounding your tissues.

IU Health cancer physicians work as a multidisciplinary team to treat your head and neck cancers effectively and to help you return to your normal activities. You will have the attention of a wide range of specialists and other professionals, including:

  • Head and neck surgical oncologists
  • Reconstructive surgeons
  • Radiation oncologists
  • Medical oncologists
  • Head and neck pathologists
  • Dentists
  • Maxillofacial prosthodontists (to replace damaged parts of the face)
  • Speech therapists
  • Neuroradiologists

IU Health cancer specialists lead the field and participate in medical professional organizations. They research the science behind head and neck cancers and new treatments. Patients come from all over the state and surrounding region for the skilled care they provide.

Head & Neck Cancer Types

Cancers of the head and neck include those on the:

  • Skin of the head and neck (squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas and melanoma)
  • Inside of the nose and sinuses
  • Mouth and throat
  • Salivary glands
  • Thyroid gland
  • Base of the skull

Head & Neck Cancer Symptoms

Common symptoms for cancers of the head and neck include:

  • Skin bumps or sores that do not heal
  • Mouth or throat ulcers that persist longer than two weeks
  • A sore throat that does not go away
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Double vision
  • Change or hoarseness in the voice
  • Blocked sinuses
  • An unexplained lump in the cheek or neck

Head & Neck Cancer Risk Factors

Many tumors originating in the head and neck share some common risk factors, including:

  • Tobacco use (plays a role in about 85 percent of head and neck cancers)
  • Alcohol use
  • Consumption of preserved or salted foods during childhood
  • Human papilloma virus (HPV) infection (a sexually transmitted disease)
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Some occupational exposures to wood, metal, formaldehyde and other substances
  • Ultraviolet light exposure

How We Can Help

As the largest group of head and neck surgical oncologists in the state, the IU Health cancer team has expertise with even rare cancers. They constantly refine existing techniques and develop new ones that enable them to remove tumors with less damage to surrounding your tissues.

IU Health cancer physicians work as a multidisciplinary team to treat your head and neck cancers effectively and to help you return to your normal activities. You will have the attention of a wide range of specialists and other professionals, including:

  • Head and neck surgical oncologists
  • Reconstructive surgeons
  • Radiation oncologists
  • Medical oncologists
  • Head and neck pathologists
  • Dentists
  • Maxillofacial prosthodontists (to replace damaged parts of the face)
  • Speech therapists
  • Neuroradiologists

IU Health cancer specialists lead the field and participate in medical professional organizations. They research the science behind head and neck cancers and new treatments. Patients come from all over the state and surrounding region for the skilled care they provide.

Many head and neck cancers develop in delicate locations that require great skill and experience for a successful outcome. IU Health cancer experts provide advanced treatments with two critical goals:

  • To remove and destroy your tumors and cancer cells
  • To recover your function and appearance

These two goals lead every treatment plan at IU Health. During the surgical phase of your treatment, your head and neck surgeon and reconstructive surgeon may work together during the same operation. One surgeon will remove your tumors while the other will preserve and rebuild your delicate tissues.

Your surgeons will use a variety of techniques to remove different types of cancer. Other treatments will help destroy cancer and restore the function and appearance of your face, head or neck.

Your treatments may include:

  • Transoral (through the mouth) laser microsurgery. Minimally invasive surgery removes tumors located in your mouth, throat or voice box, while preserving swallowing and speech structures. Your surgeon inserts a thin, lighted tube, called an endoscope, through your mouth and into your throat. They destroy your tumor with a special laser attached to the endoscope.
  • Transnasal surgery. In some cases, your surgeons will use minimally invasive techniques to access tumors inside your head without damaging surrounding structures. IU Health surgeons developed a technique to remove tumors around the pituitary gland (located behind the face at the base of the skull) with very little effect on the appearance of the face. Within Indiana, this procedure is unique to IU Health.
  • Robotic surgery. This technology allows surgeons to use tiny instruments to remove your tumors while minimizing damage to surrounding tissue. Your team will use the da Vinci robotic surgical system (Intuitive, Inc) with this approach.
  • Chemotherapy. Powerful chemotherapy drugs can disrupt and destroy cancerous cells while preserving your appearance and function of your head or neck. Often chemotherapy combined with radiation therapy helps treat difficult-to-reach areas. Your physicians use the latest chemotherapy methods to balance effectiveness with your quality of life during therapy.
  • Radiation. Your physicians may use radiation therapy to control your cancer. Sometimes before or after your surgery your physicians will shrink your tumor to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. Radiation also helps treat pain caused by cancer. When your cancer team treats head and neck cancer, they prioritize tissue and organ preservation. Highly focused radiation can destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors with less damage to surrounding tissue.
  • Plastic surgery. Reconstructive surgery can restore function in your mouth or throat. Your reconstructive surgeons have extensive experience rebuilding structures of the face, head and neck. They graft bones when needed and use tissue from nearby or other parts of the body, to recover natural shape and function.
  • Speech and swallowing therapy. Following surgical treatment, your dedicated speech and swallowing pathologists will work with you to help you regain function. A nutritionist can help you learn what foods will help you during and after treatment.

Head & Neck Cancer Treatment

Many head and neck cancers develop in delicate locations that require great skill and experience for a successful outcome. IU Health cancer experts provide advanced treatments with two critical goals:

  • To remove and destroy your tumors and cancer cells
  • To recover your function and appearance

These two goals lead every treatment plan at IU Health. During the surgical phase of your treatment, your head and neck surgeon and reconstructive surgeon may work together during the same operation. One surgeon will remove your tumors while the other will preserve and rebuild your delicate tissues.

Your surgeons will use a variety of techniques to remove different types of cancer. Other treatments will help destroy cancer and restore the function and appearance of your face, head or neck.

Your treatments may include:

  • Transoral (through the mouth) laser microsurgery. Minimally invasive surgery removes tumors located in your mouth, throat or voice box, while preserving swallowing and speech structures. Your surgeon inserts a thin, lighted tube, called an endoscope, through your mouth and into your throat. They destroy your tumor with a special laser attached to the endoscope.
  • Transnasal surgery. In some cases, your surgeons will use minimally invasive techniques to access tumors inside your head without damaging surrounding structures. IU Health surgeons developed a technique to remove tumors around the pituitary gland (located behind the face at the base of the skull) with very little effect on the appearance of the face. Within Indiana, this procedure is unique to IU Health.
  • Robotic surgery. This technology allows surgeons to use tiny instruments to remove your tumors while minimizing damage to surrounding tissue. Your team will use the da Vinci robotic surgical system (Intuitive, Inc) with this approach.
  • Chemotherapy. Powerful chemotherapy drugs can disrupt and destroy cancerous cells while preserving your appearance and function of your head or neck. Often chemotherapy combined with radiation therapy helps treat difficult-to-reach areas. Your physicians use the latest chemotherapy methods to balance effectiveness with your quality of life during therapy.
  • Radiation. Your physicians may use radiation therapy to control your cancer. Sometimes before or after your surgery your physicians will shrink your tumor to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. Radiation also helps treat pain caused by cancer. When your cancer team treats head and neck cancer, they prioritize tissue and organ preservation. Highly focused radiation can destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors with less damage to surrounding tissue.
  • Plastic surgery. Reconstructive surgery can restore function in your mouth or throat. Your reconstructive surgeons have extensive experience rebuilding structures of the face, head and neck. They graft bones when needed and use tissue from nearby or other parts of the body, to recover natural shape and function.
  • Speech and swallowing therapy. Following surgical treatment, your dedicated speech and swallowing pathologists will work with you to help you regain function. A nutritionist can help you learn what foods will help you during and after treatment.

Patient Stories for Head & Neck Cancer

Head and Neck Cancer Alliance

This advocacy and support organization has information and extensive support resources, plus an online forum to connect you with others who have head and neck cancer.

Cancer.net

This American Society of Clinical Oncology site offers a variety of resources, including information about clinical trials. It also provides information about the financial costs of cancer care.

Oral Cancer Foundation

The Oral Cancer Foundation educates the public and promotes screening for early diagnosis of head and neck cancers. This site includes a support forum that can help you and your family with the challenges of head or neck cancer.

Resources

Head and Neck Cancer Alliance

This advocacy and support organization has information and extensive support resources, plus an online forum to connect you with others who have head and neck cancer.

Cancer.net

This American Society of Clinical Oncology site offers a variety of resources, including information about clinical trials. It also provides information about the financial costs of cancer care.

Oral Cancer Foundation

The Oral Cancer Foundation educates the public and promotes screening for early diagnosis of head and neck cancers. This site includes a support forum that can help you and your family with the challenges of head or neck cancer.