Head and Neck Cancer

Head and Neck Cancer

Head and neck cancers include cancers in the mouth, lips, larynx, throat, nose, and salivary glands. Smoking and tobacco use, heavy alcohol use, and infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) increase the risk of head and neck cancers.

Head and neck cutaneous malignancies and thyroid cancer are also conditions treated by the OMFS/H&N Surgeon; these are discussed separately


Smoking and alcohol excess are responsible for the majority of H&N cancers. Recently, there is an exponential increase in HPV – related oropharyngeal cancers, mainly in the areas of the base of tongue and tonsils. Although these cancers have better prognosis, they are becoming a significant disease burden in the civilised world.


Smoking cessation and alcohol intake reduction can certainly reduce the risk of H&N Cancer. Unlike other cancers in the body, there is no reliable screening test for H&N cancer – this is an area of research. Therefore, routine appointments and reviews by an expert are important, in order to identify the cancer as early as possible.

Broadly, Head and Neck Cancer is categorised according to the location into:

  • Hypopharynx
  • Larynx
  • Mouth (Lip and Oral Cavity)
  • Neck Cancer With Occult Primary
  • Nasopharynx
  • Oropharynx
  • Paranasal Sinuses and Nasal Cavity
  • Salivary gland

A different entity that is discussed in this chapter due to anatomical considerations is thyroid cancer. Thyroid Cancer is very different in causality, treatment and prognosis, compared to the rest of the H&N Cancers.