Head and Neck Cancer – UF Health

At UF Health, we understand the fear and uncertainty that comes with a cancer diagnosis. That’s why we’re here to help.

What sets UF Health’s head and neck cancer treatment apart?

  • Comprehensive Care: At UF Health, our team of specialists collaborate to deliver personalized, coordinated and evidence-based care at every stage of a patient’s journey through cancer — from diagnosis to treatment and beyond.
  • Advanced Technology: UF Health leverages leading-edge technology to diagnose and treat head and neck cancers, including minimally invasive robotic surgery, MRI-guided radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
  • Experience: Our team of experts has decades of experience treating head and neck cancers. We see more patients for head and neck cancer than any other practice in the area and have a deep understanding of the disease and how to provide the best care possible.
  • Multidisciplinary Approach: As a top-five public research hospital system, our team works closely with other specialists, including medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgical oncologists, dental oncologists, pathologists and physical therapists, among others, to provide you with comprehensive care that addresses all aspects of your health.
  • Clinical Trials: UF Health is a leading academic medical center and offers access to cutting-edge clinical trials and innovative treatments that may not be available elsewhere.
  • Patient Support: We understand that a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. That’s why we offer a range of support services, including counseling, support groups and survivorship programs, to help you navigate your journey.

At UF Health, we are committed to providing the highest quality care to our patients. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you or your loved one fight head and neck cancer.

UF Health Cancer Center team

UF Health’s approach to head and neck cancer care

The Head and Neck Cancer Center treats head and neck tumors through various innovative surgical and radiotherapy techniques. This comprehensive team brings together the expertise of several diverse specialties to provide personalized treatment for cancers of the mouth, throat, voice box, salivary glands, thyroid and skin cancers of the head and neck region. Treatment options may include therapies that are available only through clinical trials.

As one of the nation’s top public health care and research institutions, University of Florida Health has many specialized programs, such as the Southeast Center for Research to Reduce Disparities in Oral Health, which seeks to eliminate disparities in head and neck cancers among vulnerable and underserved individuals.

Multidisciplinary treatment team

Our multidisciplinary treatment team is comprised of expert physicians, nurses and staff from many departments and services, with the common goal of improving the survival and quality of life for patients with head and neck cancer. Each patient is examined by several head and neck cancer specialists and their unique case is presented at the weekly Multidisciplinary Head and Neck Tumor Conference where the participating specialists recommend a treatment plan. Before any treatment is started, the patient and family are fully informed of the recommended treatment, the reasons it is recommended, the procedures to be carried out, the expected or possible side effects or complications and the expected benefits.

UF Health Cancer Center team with a patient

The multidisciplinary treatment team includes physicians, nurses and staff who have extensive experience in the diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of patients with head and neck cancer. Our patients benefit from numerous services including:

  • Medical oncology
  • Dental oncology
  • Surgical oncology
  • Otolaryngology
  • Oral & maxillofacial surgery
  • Plastic and reconstructive surgery
  • Radiation oncology
  • Radiology
  • Pathology
  • Clinical trials
  • Social services
  • Patient educational services
  • Nutrition services
  • Palliative care
  • Support groups

State-of-the-art technology and innovative therapy

Expert clinicians and staff utilize the latest techniques to evaluate each patient’s needs and recommended treatment. Some of the state-of-the-art technologies and innovative therapies available are:

Convenient in-office procedures

  • Voice analysis and intervention featuring laryngeal examination with stroboscopy
  • Swallow/dysphagia evaluation
  • Transnasal esophagoscopy
  • Biopsy of the head and neck
  • Unsedated laser laryngeal surgery
  • Botulism toxin injection

Minimally invasive and traditional surgical procedures

  • Head and neck cancer resection and reconstruction
  • Thyroid surgery including revision
  • Parathyroid surgery
  • Microvascular reconstruction of the head and neck
  • Parotid surgery
  • Transoral laser microsurgery
  • Minimally invasive anterior skull base surgery

State-of-the-art radiation therapy

  • Intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT)-Brachytherapy
  • Proton Therapy

Frequently Asked Questions About Head and Neck Cancer

What are the risk factors of head and neck cancer?

Head and neck cancer refers to a group of cancers that affect the tissues and organs located in the head and neck region. These cancers can arise from a variety of tissues, including the lining of the throat, mouth and nose, as well as the salivary glands, sinuses and thyroid gland.

Head and neck cancers account for approximately 5 to 7 percent of all new cancer cases in the United States, occurring more than twice as often in men than in women, and the risk of developing these cancers increases with age. Risk factors for head and neck cancer include tobacco and alcohol use, exposure to certain viruses, such as human papillomavirus (HPV), and a diet low in fruits and vegetables.

What are the symptoms of head and neck cancer?

Symptoms of head and neck cancer are variable and usually depend on the location and stage of the cancer. Many times, symptoms include a lump or sore that does not heal, persistent pain or difficulty swallowing, changes in the voice or a persistent sore throat.

  • Swelling of the gums or impaired jaw mobility
  • Bleeding, painful or loose teeth
  • Nasal obstructions
  • Voice changes
  • Lump or mass on the neck

How is head and neck cancer diagnosed?

Physical exams, imaging tests (such as CT scans or MRIs) and biopsies are typically used to diagnose or confirm the presence of cancer cells. Treatment options for head and neck cancer may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or a combination of these approaches.

The stage of the cancer along with the patient’s overall health oftentimes dictate the prognosis for head and neck cancer. Early detection and treatment can improve the chances of a positive outcome.

How can you reduce your risk of developing head and neck cancer?

Prevention of head and neck cancer includes avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption and maintaining a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Regular dental and medical check-ups can also help detect any potential signs of head and neck cancer early on. Getting vaccinated against HPV infection is the most targeted way to reduce your risk.

What is the survival rate for head and neck cancer?

The survival rate for head and neck cancer can vary widely and depends on several factors, including the location and stage of the cancer, the age and overall health of the patient, and the type of treatment received.

According to the American Cancer Society, the overall five-year relative survival rate for all stages of head and neck cancer is around 65%. However, this number can vary widely based on the specific type of cancer and its stage.

As the American Cancer Society data has shown, the five-year relative survival rate for localized throat cancer is around 90%, while the rate for metastatic or advanced throat cancer is around 50%. Similarly, the five-year relative survival rate for localized laryngeal cancer is around 80%, while the rate for metastatic or advanced laryngeal cancer is around 30%.

It is important to note that survival rates are based on large groups of people and cannot predict the outcome for any individual patient. The best way to understand your own prognosis is to talk to your doctor about your specific case.

How can you lower your risk of skin cancer?

There are several steps you can take to lower your risk of skin cancer:

  • Limit exposure to UV radiation: The most significant risk factor for skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can come from the sun or from artificial sources like tanning beds. To reduce your risk, try to limit your time in the sun, especially during peak hours (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.). Wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts and hats, and use broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Avoid tanning beds: Tanning beds emit UV radiation that can be just as harmful as the sun. Avoid using tanning beds altogether.
  • Check your skin regularly: Regular self-exams can help you spot any changes in your skin that may indicate skin cancer. Look for any new moles or growths, as well as any changes in the size, shape, or color of existing moles or growths.
  • See a dermatologist: If you notice any changes in your skin, or if you have a family history of skin cancer, consider seeing a dermatologist for a full skin exam. They can help identify any potential problem areas and recommend appropriate treatment or monitoring.
  • Protect your eyes and lips: Your eyes and lips are also vulnerable to skin cancer. Wear sunglasses that block UV rays, and use a lip balm with an SPF of at least 15.

By following these steps, you can help lower your risk of skin cancer and maintain healthy skin.

Is radiation therapy used to treat head and neck cancer?

Radiation therapy is commonly used to treat head and neck cancer. Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation, such as X-rays or protons, to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors. It can be used alone or in combination with surgery and/or chemotherapy.

UF Health Cancer Center

Radiation therapy is often used to treat early-stage head and neck cancer or to shrink tumors before surgery. In advanced stages of cancer, radiation therapy may be used to relieve symptoms or to destroy cancer cells that remain after surgery.

Radiation therapy for head and neck cancer can be delivered externally or internally. External radiation therapy involves directing a beam of radiation at the cancer from outside the body, while internal radiation therapy involves placing a radioactive source inside the body near the cancer.

Radiation therapy for head and neck cancer can cause side effects, including skin changes, sore throat, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing and fatigue. However, these side effects can often be managed with medication or other supportive therapies, and most side effects go away after treatment is finished.

What type of surgery is used to treat head and neck cancer?

There are several types of surgeries that can be used to treat head and neck cancer, depending on the location and stage of the cancer. The following are some of the most common types of surgery used to treat head and neck cancer:

  • Excisional biopsy: This is a small surgery that removes a sample of tissue for examination to diagnose the cancer.
  • Endoscopic surgery: This type of surgery uses a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera at the end (an endoscope) to view and remove cancerous tissue in areas such as the nasal cavity, sinuses, and throat.
  • Mohs surgery: This is a precise surgical technique that removes skin cancer layer by layer until only cancer-free tissue remains.
  • Laser surgery: This type of surgery uses a laser beam to remove cancerous tissue. It can be used for small tumors on the surface of the skin or mucous membranes in the mouth and throat.
  • Neck dissection: This neck surgery removes lymph nodes in the neck that have been affected by cancer.
  • Radical or modified radical neck dissection: This is a more extensive surgery that removes lymph nodes, as well as other structures such as muscles and nerves, from the neck.
  • Reconstructive surgery: This type of surgery may be needed after a more extensive surgery to restore the appearance and function of the head and neck area.

The type of surgery used depends on factors such as the location and stage of the cancer, as well as the patient’s overall health and preferences.

What is oropharyngeal cancer?

Oropharyngeal cancer is a type of head and neck cancer that affects the oropharynx, which is the part of the throat that includes the base of the tongue, the tonsils, the soft palate and the walls of the pharynx.

Oropharyngeal cancer is usually a type of squamous cell carcinoma, which develops in the cells lining the oropharynx. It is often linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a sexually transmitted infection.

Symptoms of oropharyngeal cancer may include a persistent sore throat, difficulty swallowing, ear pain, a lump in the neck, hoarseness or voice changes and unexplained weight loss.

Treatment for oropharyngeal cancer depends on the stage and location of the cancer, as well as the patient’s overall health. It may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or a combination of these treatments. The prognosis for oropharyngeal cancer varies depending on the stage and other factors, but early detection and treatment can improve outcomes.

What are the side effects of head and neck cancer treatment?

The side effects of head and neck cancer treatment can vary depending on the type of treatment used and the location and stage of the cancer. The following are some common side effects:

  • Fatigue: Many patients experience fatigue during and after treatment, which can affect their ability to perform daily activities.
  • Mouth and throat problems: Treatment can cause inflammation and irritation of the mouth and throat, leading to dry mouth, difficulty swallowing and mouth sores.
  • Changes in taste: Treatment can also affect the sense of taste, making food taste different or unappetizing.
  • Skin problems: Radiation therapy can cause skin irritation, redness and peeling in the treated area.
  • Hair loss: Chemotherapy can cause hair loss, including hair loss on the scalp, face and body.
  • Hearing loss: Treatment can affect the hearing, particularly if the cancer is located in the ear or close to the nerves that control hearing.
  • Lymphedema: Surgery and radiation therapy can cause swelling in the neck or other areas of the body due to damage to the lymphatic system.
  • Emotional and psychological effects: The stress of dealing with cancer and its treatment can cause emotional and psychological effects such as anxiety, depression and difficulty coping.

It is important to discuss potential side effects with your healthcare team and to work with them to manage and minimize any symptoms that may arise. Supportive care measures such as medications, dietary changes and counseling may be helpful in managing side effects and improving quality of life during and after treatment.

Community and Patient Programs: Head and Neck Cancer

Our community and patient programs provide great value to patients, families and loved ones. People can find
support, educational materials, expert consultants and more. In most instances, these programs are offered free of
charge.

News and Patient Stories: Head and Neck Cancer

June 1, 2023

A University of Florida research team has discovered a new role of a key protein in driving changes in the genetic material of cells, which can contribute to…

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