Head and Neck Cancer

Head and neck cancer can be located in the following areas:

  • Mouth or oral cavity
  • Salivary gland
  • Pharynx
  • Larynx
  • Nasal cavity or paranasal sinus

Twice as many men than women are diagnosed with head and neck cancers. This is potentially reflected in some of the associated risks that can increase the chance of head and neck cancer being developed including:

  • Smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Exposure to asbestos
  • History of Plummer-Vinson syndrome
  • Exposure to human papilloma virus (HPV)
  • History of Epstein-Barr virus

Presentation of localised symptoms such as pain and bleeding should prompt a consultation with your doctor for further investigation.

The two principal treatment types used for head and neck cancer are:

  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery

In some cases a patient requires both treatments. Chemotherapy is often added to increase the effect of radiation therapy in extensive tumours and is especially used for patients with many or very large lymph nodes.

External Beam Radiation Therapy for Head and Neck Cancer
The treatment of head and neck cancer with radiation therapy is unique for the reason that it routinely requires the delivery of different prescriptions of radiation to a specific area of the head and neck region. This is for clinical reasons and is to adequately dose the primary tumour area and anticipated or known area of lymph node activity.

This approach of 'phase' treatments is clinically achieved and efficiently managed by the use of intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and volumetric modulated arc therapy (VMAT). Both achieve the variance in prescribed radiation dose adjacent to radiation sensitive structures such as the parotid, spinal cord and salivary glands.

Brachytherapy for Head and Neck Cancer
For head and neck cancers, brachytherapy is often used in conjunction with external beam radiation therapy, but may be used alone.

For high-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy catheters are implanted in and around the tumour site. Treatment delivery usually occurs twice per day for a 1-5 day period. During which the catheters remain implanted for the duration. The efficacy of this treatment is due to the close proximity of the radiation treatment delivery to the target tumour site, which enables high doses of radiation to be delivered without over exposing surrounding healthy tissue.

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