What is head and neck cancer?
The term "head and neck cancer" refers to a variety of tumors that can occur in the throat, larynx (voice box), nose, sinuses and mouth. Cancer that occurs in the mouth may also be considered to be a type of head and neck cancer. More information on cancers of the mouth, oropharynx and oral cavity can be found in our section on Oral Cancer.
Most head and neck cancers are called squamous cell carcinomas, because they begin on the surface layer of the region within the head or neck, where the cells are flat and squamous. Cancer confined to this layer of cells is called carcinoma in situ. When the malignant cells spread into deeper layers of cells, it is called invasive squamous cell carcinoma.
Head and neck cancer incidence
Approximately 52,000 people are diagnosed with head and neck cancers each year. More than twice as many men than women have head and neck cancer. As a group, these malignancies (including cancers of the mouth) account for about 3 to 5 percent of all cancers in the United States. About 11,000 people die from head and neck cancer each year. Fortunately, the number of people with head and neck cancer and mortality associated with this disease has been decreasing over the past 20 years.