Types of Head and Neck Cancer

Cancer can develop in the mouth, throat, salivary glands, and other parts of the head and neck. These cancers can affect speaking, swallowing, and eating, as well as your appearance.

At Michigan Medicine, our nationally ranked ear, nose, and throat team can help. Experienced surgeons successfully treat all types of head and neck cancers. They listen to your concerns and work with you to find the best treatment approach.

Learn more about our treatments for head and neck cancer.

Symptoms of Head and Neck Cancer

Symptoms of head and neck cancer depend on a variety of factors, but may include:

  • Persistent soreness in the mouth, nose, neck, or throat
  • Enlarged lymph node in the neck (neck mass)
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Hoarseness, change in voice, or frequent cough
  • Red or white patch in mouth or newly loose teeth
  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Ear pain 
  • Frequent nosebleeds or nasal obstruction (particularly on one side)
  • Jaw pain or difficulty opening your mouth
  • Paralysis of your face

Diagnosing Head and Neck Cancer

We start by reviewing any previous records before you come in for your first appointment. This review includes prior surgeries, imaging, lab tests, and biopsies. It allows us to schedule a coordinated visit with all the providers you need to see.

Your visit may also include additional tests, such as an MRI, CT/PET scan, or biopsy. These tests help us make a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan. Once we confirm the type of cancer affecting your head or neck, we may have you meet with other providers. These team members may include radiation and medical oncologists and speech pathologists.

If you’ve already had a comprehensive workup with another doctor, we may be able to offer a virtual consultation instead of an in-person visit.

Mouth Cancer

We typically treat mouth (oral cavity) cancer with surgery. For more advanced tumors, radiation with or without chemotherapy may be needed after surgery. Often, complex reconstructive surgery is required to rebuild the area removed during cancer surgery. We use a team approach to reduce surgery time and offer a faster recovery. Learn more about mouth cancer.

Throat Cancer

There are a variety of factors that affect how we treat throat cancer. We typically use surgery or a combination of radiation and chemotherapy to treat throat cancer. Throat cancers are sometimes difficult to reach with traditional surgical techniques. Robotic-assisted surgery allows us to easily maneuver through the throat. We are also experts in complex throat reconstructions. Find out more about throat cancer.

Voice Box (Laryngeal) Cancer

Treatment for laryngeal cancer, also known as voice box cancer, includes surgery or radiation with or without chemotherapy. A number of complex factors go into our treatment recommendations.

Depending on the size and type of tumor, we may perform a partial laryngectomy, often via robotic-assisted surgery. Robotic surgery allows us to more easily reach the tumor and avoid placing a temporary breathing tube in the neck. A partial laryngectomy lets us remove smaller tumors while preserving your voice.

Radiation may provide an option for early-stage voice box cancer. For more advanced cancers, a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy can offer an alternative to surgery while preserving the voice box. In some cases, we may recommend complete removal of the voice box, also called a total laryngectomy. Learn more about laryngeal cancer.

Nasal and Sinus Cancers

Nasal and sinus cancers are rare conditions that require specialized doctors. Our surgeons use both minimally invasive and traditional surgical techniques to remove nasal and sinus cancers.

Our minimally invasive approaches include transoral robotic surgery (TORS), as well as surgery directly through the nose using small cameras and instruments. These approaches let us more easily reach into the sinuses, reducing incisions and recovery time. Find out more about nasal and sinus cancers.

Salivary Gland Cancer

We typically treat salivary gland cancer with surgery followed by radiation for more advanced cancers. We may remove a part of or all the affected salivary gland during surgery. 

Salivary gland cancers are often located near the facial nerve. We monitor this delicate nerve during surgery and preserve nerve function whenever possible. Our surgeons also perform reconstructive surgery when it’s needed. Learn more about salivary gland cancer.

Thyroid Cancer

Some thyroid cancers don’t need treatment, especially if the tumor is very small. We still watch you carefully for signs of tumor growth. If we do need to treat thyroid cancer, we use surgery to remove all or part of the thyroid.

Advanced thyroid cancers may require removal of the lymph nodes around the gland or the side of the neck. We usually follow up surgery for advanced thyroid cancer with radioactive iodine to treat any remaining cancer cells. Find out more about thyroid cancer.

Advanced Head and Neck Skin Cancers 

Most head and neck skin cancers require surgery. These cancers typically form on the nose, ears, lips, and other areas sensitive to the sun. Our head and neck surgeons are experts at treating these cancers. We work to preserve skin and appearance and perform reconstructions when necessary. 

Make an Appointment

To schedule an evaluation for head and neck cancer, please call us at 734-936-8051. You may also call us to schedule a virtual telehealth appointment.