Head/Neck Cancer


Good Samaritan’s highly trained otolaryngologists (ear, nose and throat physicians) diagnose and treat cancers that are known collectively as head and neck cancers. These tumors usually begin in the squamous cells, cells that line the surfaces inside the mouth, the nose and the throat. They are also referred to as squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck. Head and neck cancers can also begin in the salivary glands, but these are relatively uncommon. Head and neck cancer may spread to a patient’s lymph nodes located along major blood vessels underneath the muscle on each side of the neck, particularly the internal jugular vein node at the angle of the jaw. The risk of spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream is closely related to whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the neck, how many nodes are involved, and their location.

Patients diagnosed with head and neck cancer may often experience the following symptoms or signs.  For more information on your particular case, please speak with a member of the Good Samaritan cancer team or physician:

  • Swelling or sore that does not heal (the most common symptom)
  • Red or white patch in the mouth
  • Lump, bump, or mass in the head or neck area (with or without pain)
  • Persistent sore throat
  • Foul mouth odor not explained by hygiene
  • Hoarseness or change in voice
  • Nasal obstruction or persistent nasal congestion
  • Frequent nose bleeds and/or unusual nasal discharge
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Double vision
  • Numbness or weakness of a body part in the head and neck region
  • Pain or difficulty chewing, swallowing, or moving the jaws or tongue
  • Ear and/or jaw pain
  • Blood in the saliva or phlegm (mucus discharged in mouth from respiratory passages)
  • Loosening of teeth
  • Dentures that no longer fit
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
After a physical examination, doctors may recommend an imaging scan to confirm or rule out a diagnosis of cancer. The most common scans for diagnosis and follow-up are magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography (CT). At Good Samaritan’s Department of Imaging Services, images of the head and neck are generated for the purpose of diagnosing tumors. The purpose of a scan is to give the cancer team a closer look to provide information that will assist in your diagnosis. If cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms and side effects remains an important part of cancer care and treatment. This may also be called symptom management, palliative care, or supportive care. Patients should speak with their health care team about symptoms they experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The Good Samaritan cancer team may offer three main types of treatment for managing head and neck cancer—radiation therapy, surgery and chemotherapy. The primary treatments are radiation therapy or surgery, or both combined; chemotherapy is often used as an additional, or adjuvant, treatment. The most effective combination of these three treatments depends on the site of the cancer and the stage (extent) of the disease.

Chemotherapy
Recent studies indicate that chemotherapy given at the same time as radiation therapy is more effective than if it is given before a course of radiation therapy. Good Samaritan’s cancer team may provide radiation treatment schedules that include chemotherapy if the stage of the cancer is advanced (advanced stage III or stage IV). The chemotherapy may be given in a variety of ways, including a low daily dose, a moderately low weekly dose, or a relatively higher dose every three to four weeks.

Radiation Therapy
The Department of Radiation Oncology uses high-energy rays to treat cancer and other diseases. When radiation is used in high doses and aimed at targeted areas of the body, the rays can destroy the cancer cells and prevent them from reproducing. In many cases, radiation therapy is the single best treatment for cancer. When used correctly by professionals with special expertise and training, it is very safe and a highly effective treatment for cancer.

Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy
With Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT), individual radiation beams are further broken down into tiny segments. They are carefully controlled so that the intensity of the beam can change in each little section. Therefore, even irregularly shaped tumors surrounding normal tissue can be irradiated at a high dose, while at the same time protecting healthy, normal tissue that surrounds or is surrounded by the tumor.
Good Samaritan’s Radiation Oncology Department is one of only a few centers in New York State to be accredited by the American College of Radiology. Here patients are treated with compassion, dignity and respect by board certified radiation oncologists. With this experience and technology available locally, patient’s don’t have to go far to get the most far-reaching cancer treatment available. 

The Radiation Oncology Department has received a three-year accreditation by the American College of Radiology (ACR)-American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO).  Accreditation by ACR-ASTRO demonstrates that Good Samaritan has undergone a comprehensive review process and meets nationally accepted standards of care.  The ACR-ASTRO accreditation process signifies that Good Samaritan’s radiation oncology professionals, equipment, quality assurance and radiation safety meet the highest standards.

Surgery
Another treatment that might be necessary before or after radiation therapy is surgery. In general, if a physician and/or cancer team suggest surgical removal of the tumor, radiation is given afterward if necessary. Sometimes, however, the cancer is extensive or it is not feasible to completely remove the cancer initially. Radiotherapy is then given first to try to shrink the tumor and surgery will follow.