Education & Resources

Head & Neck Cancers: Get the Facts

Head & Neck cancers include cancers of the:

  • Mouth
  • Nose
  • Sinuses
  • Salivary glands
  • Throat (pharynx and larynx)
  • Lymph nodes in the neck.

Most Head & Neck cancers begin in squamous cells lining the moist surfaces inside the head and neck; they are often referred to as squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) of the head and neck.

Head & Neck cancers make up about 3% to 5% of all cancers in the USA with:

  • More than 30,000 new cases diagnosed/year
  • More than 8,000 deaths/year are due to oral cancer alone
  • 5 Year survival rates of about 50%.

Risk factors for Head & Neck cancers include:

  • Tobacco use
  • Alcohol use
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • In recent years, more than 60% of oropharyngeal cancers are due to HPV.

Celebrities affected by Head & Neck cancers include: 

  • Humphrey Bogart
  • Sammy Davis, Jr.
  • Michael Douglas
  • Roger Ebert
  • Sigmund Freud
  • George Harrison
  • Bruce Paltrow
  •  Babe Ruth
  • Aaron Spelling
  • Rod Stewart
  • Peter Tork
  • Eddie Van Halen
  • Adam “MCA” Yauch.

Common symptoms of Head & Neck cancers include:

  • Mouth: A white or a red patch on the gums, tongue or the lining of the mouth; a swollen jaw, bleeding or pain in the mouth
  • Nose and sinuses: Clogged sinuses that won’t clear up, chronic sinus infections that don’t respond to antibiotics, nose bleeds, headaches, swollen eyes, pain in the upper teeth
  • Salivary glands: Swollen jaw or chin, numbness or paralysis of the face, pain that won’t go away in the face, chin, or neck
  • Throat (pharynx): Ear pain, problems breathing or speaking, frequent headaches, pain or ringing in the ears, trouble hearing
  • Voice box (larynx): Pain when swallowing, ear pain.

Local treatments often include:

  • Surgery to remove tumor and lymph nodes
  • Radiation targeting affected area(s).
  • Chemotherapy targeting cancer cells that may have spread from the original site
  • Combination of treatments.

Typical side effects of treatment may include:

  • Nausea
  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue
  • Thick nose and throat mucous/secretions
  • Loss of interest in food due to:
  • Sores in the mouth and throat
  • Changes in smell and taste
  • Dry mouth due to low/no saliva
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hearing loss.