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Sarcoma of the Head and Neck

Sarcomas are relatively uncommon tumors. Head and neck sarcomas account for about 1 percent of head and neck malignancies and 5 percent of sarcomas, according to Cancers, an oncology journal. About 80 percent of head and neck sarcomas originate in soft tissue while about 20 percent arise from bone.

Sarcoma Treatment: Answers from Oncologist Carol Morris

A sarcoma diagnosis can be scary. Learn about sarcoma treatment options and prevention of sarcoma recurrence from an expert at the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Head and Neck Sarcoma Symptoms

The most common symptoms of head and neck sarcomas include the following:

  • A painless lump
  • A facial or neck mass
  • Change or hoarseness in the voice
  • A nasal mass or obstruction
  • Epistaxis (bleeding from the nose)
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty or painful swallowing

Head and Neck Sarcoma Risk Factors

Risk factors for sarcomas of the head and neck include the following:

  • Previous exposure to radiation (often in areas previously radiated for other cancers)
  • Genetic conditions such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome
  • Medical conditions such as lymphedema

Head and Neck Sarcoma Diagnosis

A thorough head and neck exam is the first step toward making a diagnosis. The doctor will perform a full exam, including an evaluation of the upper airway. If a mass is suspected, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and/or a CT scan may be ordered to demonstrate the extent of tumor involvement. A contrast material (special dye) may be required to provide additional detail. .

Occasionally, imaging findings can suggest the correct diagnosis, but an actual diagnosis requires a biopsy to examine and test a tissue sample from the tumor. If a head and neck sarcoma is diagnosed, a PET scan may be ordered to determine if the cancer has spread.

Head and Neck Sarcoma Treatment

Head and neck sarcoma treatment usually requires a multimodality approach that involves multiple techniques. Surgery is often an important component of treatment. Radiation and chemotherapy may also be used. Prior to surgery, radiation and chemotherapy may help shrink the tumor. If radiation is not used before surgery, it may be given after surgery to reduce the risk of recurrence (the cancer returning).

The specific treatment plan will vary based on the following:

  • Type of head and neck sarcoma
  • Site and size of the tumor
  • Extent of disease (whether it is localized, regional or distant)
Proton therapy machine

The Johns Hopkins Proton Therapy Center

Proton therapy is used to treat certain tumors in children and adults. Our treatment center, located at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C., combines advanced proton therapy technology, the latest research and caring specialists.

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