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Head and Neck Cancer

Nearly 65,000 patients are diagnosed annually with head and neck cancer in the United States. These cancers can affect the nasal passages, sinuses, mouth, throat, larynx (voice box), swallowing passages, salivary glands and thyroid gland. Skin cancers that develop on the scalp, face or neck also may be considered head and neck cancers. Many of these cancers are responsive to treatment.

Please see our list of Experts for any of these conditions.

Risk Factors, Screenings and Symptoms

The Johns Hopkins Head and Neck Cancer Center and our multidisciplinary team ( made up of specialists from Surgical Oncology, Medical Oncology, Radiation Oncology and Speech Pathology ) provide comprehensive care in treatment and post-treatment services. As part of this team, the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center has surgical and radiation oncology specialists at Suburban Hospital who work with medical oncology specialists at Sibley Memorial Hospital, providing comprehensive care close to home.

There are many types of head and neck cancer. Here's an overview of the types and which areas they affect:

  • Cancer of the hypopharynx. Cancer cells are found in the tissues in the bottom part of the throat.
  • Cancer of the nasopharynx. Cancer cells are found in the tissues of the upper part of the throat, located behind the nose.
  • Cancer of the oropharynx. Cancer cells are found in the middle part of the throat.
  • Cancer of the paranasal sinus and nasal cavity. Cancer cells are found in the tissues in the small hollow spaces around the nose, known as the paranasal sinus and nasal cavity. The sinuses keep the nose from drying out and are also a space that allows the voice to echo when a person is talking or singing. The nasal cavity is just behind the nose. Air passes through it on its way to the throat during breathing.
  • Cancer of the salivary gland. Cancer cells are found in the salivary glands. These glands are found just below the tongue, on the sides of the face in front of the ears, and under the jawbone. There are also salivary glands in different parts of the upper digestive tract. Salivary glands make saliva, which keeps food moist and helps dissolve food.
  • Metastatic squamous neck cancer with occult primary. In this type of cancer, squamous cell cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the neck. If the doctor cannot find out where the cancer started, it is called metastatic squamous cell cancer with unknown primary site.