CANCER OF THE HEAD AND NECK

What is cancer of the head and neck?
Cancer of the head and neck are tumors affecting the oral cavity (lips, tongue, cheeks, gums, palate, and tonsil pillars), throat, larynx, pharynx, nose, paranasal sinuses, salivary glands, thyroid, and parathyroid.  The most frequent types of cancer are those affecting the larynx, the pharynx, and the oral cavity.  In 90% of cases, malignant head and neck neoplastic diseases are represented by spinocellular carcinomas, also called squamous cell carcinomas, originating from the epithelium covering the district mucosa.  There are also other rarer forms of tumors (5% of all neoplasias of the head and neck) originating from other tissues: adenocarcinomas from the salivary glands, melanomas from melanin-producing cells, lymphoid tissue lymphomas, etc.
Head and neck tumors are the fifth most common neoplastic disease in Italy, representing 10-12% of all malignant tumors in men and 4-5% in women (approximately 12,000 new cases are reported every year).  In the last 20 years, there has been an increased number of oropharyngeal neoplastic diseases reported among young people. This tumor is in fact closely correlated to HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) transmitted with oral sex.

Risk factors for head and neck tumors

  • Smoking: approximately 85% of head and neck cancers are linked to tobacco use.
  • Alcohol consumption: it increases the risk of developing this type of neoplastic disease by eleven times.
  • Viruses: papilloma Virus and Epstein-Barr virus.
  • Low-vitamin diet: namely vitamins A and B.
  • Exposure to chemical substances: such as asbestos dust.

Treatment of head and neck cancer
A number of factors, in addition to healing, must be taken into consideration when selecting the treatment, such as maintaining a good quality of life and the functions of the involved systems: language, swallowing, voice, taste and breathing.

  • Surgery: surgery can be performed only if the neoplasia can be fully removed. If lymph node metastases are present, the success rates decrease by over 50% and radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy will subsequently be required.
  • Radiation therapy: this is the treatment of choice for rhynopharingeal tumors, for early stage larynx tumors, and for locally-advanced stages of the disease. RT can be used alone for treatment purposes (in the event of small size tumors and as an alternative to surgery, to prevent mutilating procedures and preserve organ functions as much as possible) and palliative purposes (to reduce symptoms or consequences of the local progression of the disease that could significantly affect the quality of life). RT is also indicated after surgery to improve the outcomes and prevent the recurrence of the disease.  At UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Villa Maria we perform stereotactic radiotherapy and radiosurgery.
  • Chemotherapy