Diagnosing Head and Neck Cancers

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  • Adena Regional Medical Center

There are five main types of head and neck cancer, named after the area in which they originate. Often, they begin inside the mouth, nose or throat. They also can begin in the salivary glands, but this is rare. Cancers in certain parts of the head and neck, such as the brain, eyes, esophagus, skin, muscles and bones, are not generally categorized as head and neck cancers.

The most common risk factors for head and neck cancers are alcohol and tobacco use. However, recently there has been an increased number of cases related to HPV (human papillomavirus).

When diagnosing this cancer, doctors must determine its stage to recommend an appropriate treatment. Cancer is considered to be early or advanced depending on the size of the tumor, the degree to which nearby lymph nodes are affected, and whether or not the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Like most cancers, the sooner head and neck cancers are detected, the better as there are more treatment options that are more effective.

Cancer Type



Treatment Options

Laryngeal and Hypopharyngeal Cancer

Located at the top of the trachea, the larynx or voice box helps with breathing, talking and swallowing. The hypopharynx surrounds the larynx. Laryngeal cancer is one of the most common head and neck cancers. 

Through imaging tests such as X-ray, CT scan, MRI as well as a laryngoscopy. Alcohol and tobacco users should get an annual physical examination, which can spot abnormalities.

There are several surgical options, including removing all or part of the larynx.

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can be used before or after surgery to kill cancer cells.

Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer

A malignant tumor begins in the nose or in the paranasal sinuses behind the nose. Cancer can develop in different types of cells, which determines how aggressive it is. It is rare and tends to affect people between ages 45 and 85.

Through imaging tests such as X-ray, CT scan, MRI as well as an endoscopy, which lets doctors look inside the nose with a flexible tube.

Surgery is often used to remove the tumor and some healthy tissue around it. Reconstructive surgery may be necessary.


Chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy before and after surgery are frequently recommended. 

Nasopharyngeal Cancer








The nasopharynx is the air passage behind the nose, at the top of the throat. While there are several types of benign nasopharyngeal tumors, some can be cancerous. This type is rare.

Through imaging tests such as a X-ray, CT scan, MRI as well as neurologic and hearing tests.

Often can be cured if found early. Radiation is the primary therapy, usually given alongside chemotherapy.


Surgery is sometimes used to remove lymph nodes after radiation and chemotherapy, or to treat a recurring cancer.

Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancer





Oral cancer can include the mouth and tongue and is one of the most common head and neck cancers. The oropharynx is located in the throat and stretches from the tonsils to the larynx.

Through imaging tests such as X-ray, CT scan, MRI as well as an endoscopy. Dentists can administer an oral brush biopsy, using a small brush to gather cells in a suspicious area.

Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation are the main options, used alone or in combination. The tumor may be removed through the mouth or the neck.


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