Head & Neck Cancer Information
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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.
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.
Types of Head and Neck Cancer
There are several types of head and neck cancer, classified according to the part of the body in which they occur. Because risk factors, diagnosis and treatment can vary depending on the subtype, complete information for each subtype of head and neck cancer is provided separately.
- Laryngeal Cancer: The larynx is located at the top of the windpipe, or trachea. Also called the voice box, this tube-shaped organ is involved in breathing, talking and swallowing.
- Hypopharyngeal Cancer: The hypopharynx is the lower part of the throat, which surrounds the larynx. This part of the body is also called the gullet.
- Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer: Behind the nose is a space where air passes on its way to the throat. This region is called the nasal cavity. The air-filled areas surrounding the nasal cavity are the paranasal sinuses.
- Nasopharyngeal Cancer: The nasopharynx is an air passage located at the very upper part of the throat, just behind the nose.
- Salivary Gland Cancer: The salivary glands make saliva, which is essential for breaking down food.
- Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancer: Both the mouth and the tongue are part of the oral cavity. The oropharynx is the middle of the throat, extending from the tonsils to the top of the larynx. Visit our Oral Cancer section to learn more about this type of head and neck cancer, including how it is diagnosed and the treatment options available.
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