Head and neck cancers make up approximately 4 percent of total new cancer cases per year, or about 43,000 total cases per year. These cancers are more likely to occur in men, as well as smokers and alcohol users. The incidence level of head and neck cancers for former smokers generally takes 15 to 30 years to drop to the level of non-smokers. Smokers also have a predisposition to developing multiple cancers anywhere along the throat.
Early stage head and neck cancers are often managed surgically, except in cancers where organ preservation concerns dominate, such as early stage vocal cord cancers. These latter cancers are managed with radiotherapy alone, with cure rates exceeding 90 percent. The head and neck cancers are generally divided into several major subdivisions. These include the following:
Early stage lesions are often managed by single treatment modalities, such as surgery or radiotherapy. More advanced lesions are often managed by various combinations of these, with or without chemotherapy. Chemotherapy does not generally have a role as a single treatment.
Cancers of the head and neck pose a unique challenge. The nearby organs and structures, like the spinal cord, make precise targeting necessary to decrease side effects. This makes Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) a powerful weapon when treating the tonsils, tongue or other areas. This feature on our advanced equipment allows for drastically improved shaping of the X-ray treatment beam. We offer IMRT and IGRT treatment procedures.
Another advantage we have is that radiation can kill cancer cells, even when they are too small to see-called “microscopic disease.” Radiation is often used in treating cancer in the neck to prevent the spread to the neck lymph nodes, and destroy any microscopic cancer cells already there.
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