Cancer Care Center

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Services and Programs 

Head and Neck Cancer  

Introduction to Head and Neck Cancer Patient Care at BMC 
What Is Head and Neck Cancer? 
What Are the Symptoms of Head and Neck Cancer? 
What Are the Causes of Head and Neck Cancer? 
How Is Head and Neck Cancer Diagnosed? 
How Is Head and Neck Cancer Treated? 
Our Team 
Cancer Clinical Trials 
Cancer Support Services 
Additional Support from Patient Navigators, Social Workers, and Nutritionists 

Introduction

At Boston Medical Center (BMC), the care of patients with head and neck cancer is a collaborative, multidisciplinary process. Organizing our services around each patient, we bring together the expertise of diverse specialists to manage your care from your first consultation through treatment and follow-up visits. We guide you throughout the entire diagnostic process and treatment course.

In our highly supportive and collaborative environment, experts in head and neck cancer provide you with the most advanced, coordinated, and comprehensive medical care available anywhere—treatment that is effective and innovative in curing and controlling cancer and managing its impact on your quality of life.

BMC is a major provider in the Northeast for primary and tertiary referrals of patients with head and neck malignancies.  Our team evaluates and manages both early stage as well as recurrent and aggressive cancers.

At BMC, diagnosis and treatment of patients with head and neck cancer combines the resources of a multidisciplinary clinical center dedicated to personal, patient-focused care with the state-of-the-art expertise and technological advances of a major teaching hospital. As the primary teaching affiliate of the Boston University School of Medicine, BMC is at the forefront of clinical practice, clinical trials, surgical expertise, and research in oncology.

Head and neck cancer is a treatable disease. In our culture of innovation, collaboration, and compassionate care, you will receive treatment from physicians who are nationally recognized leaders in the care of patients with all stages of head and neck cancer.

For more information or to refer a patient, please call BMC Connect at 877.781.4763 or email us at HNC.Center@bmc.org. Patients with a diagnosis or strong suspicion of cancer are given appointments within 72 hours.

What Is Head and Neck Cancer?

In 2010, more than 55,000 Americans were diagnosed with cancers of the head and neck. These malignancies can disfigure the face and neck and affect a person’s speech, eyesight, hearing, ability to swallow, and sense of smell.

Fortunately, many of these cancers are curable if caught at an early stage.

Cancers of the head and neck generally develop in the squamous cells (the outermost layer of cells) that line the moist surfaces inside the mouth, nose, and throat. Cells, the body's basic unit of life, divide to form new cells, and after performing their functions for a while, they die. However, cancer cells do not die. Instead, they continue to divide and produce extra cells that mass into a tumor. If the tumor is benign, it does not invade nearby tissue or spread (metastasize) elsewhere in the body. If the tumor is malignant, it is a cancer that grows and invades healthy tissue and may metastasize to other parts of the body.

Ninety percent of head and neck cancer cases are squamous cell carcinomas, malignant tumors on the surface of the oral cavity, the aerodigestive tract (respiratory and digestive passages), and other organs.

The location of the cancer determines its name and affects its diagnosis and treatment. Sites of head and neck cancer include:

  • Salivary glands
  • Nasal cavity and sinuses
  • Upper aerodigestive tract, including the throat (pharynx), the voice box (larynx), and the oral cavity (lips, gums, cheeks, tongue, roof and floor of the mouth)
  • Eye cavity (orbital tumors in the bones surrounding the eye)
  • Ear and temporal bone
  • Sarcomas (clusters of malignant tumors) in the neck
  • Tumors of the skull base
  • Skin of the head and neck

What Are the Symptoms of Head and Neck Cancer? 

Many cancers of the head and neck produce early warning signs. General symptoms may include a persistent sore, a lump, swelling, soreness or pain in the face, neck, mouth, jaw, or throat.

Other symptoms vary with the type and location of the cancer, such as: 

  • Paralysis or numbness in the face or neck
  • Change in vision, pain, or bulging around the eye socket
  • Hearing loss or ear pain
  • Difficulty or pain when opening the mouth, chewing, swallowing, or speaking
  • Bleeding from the mouth or nose
  • Unusual white or red patches on the mouth lining, gums, tongue, or lips 
  • Changes in the voice, such as hoarseness
  • Weight loss
  • Looseness of upper teeth
  • Dentures that no longer fit properly or comfortably

If any of these symptoms persist for more than two weeks, you are advised to see your physician.

What Are the Causes of Head and Neck Cancer?

Most head and neck cancers are linked to tobacco products, such as cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, and smokeless tobaccos, such as chewing tobacco and snuff. Using both tobacco and alcohol puts an individual at greater risk than either of these habits alone. A subset of head and neck cancers may be caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).
 
Other factors that may increase risk are:

  • Age:  Most head and neck cancers are found in people ages 50 and older.
  • Gender:  Men are at greater risk to develop head and neck cancers than women.
  • Race:  African-Americans have a higher rate of head and neck cancer than do Caucasians, Hispanics, or Asians.
  • Radiation to the head and neck from previous radiation therapy 
  • Poor oral hygiene 
  • Exposure to airborne particles of asbestos, especially in the workplace
  • Excessive sun exposure 

 

Appointments

Call: 800.682.2862

Boston Medical Center
Moakley Building
830 Harrison Avenue
Boston, MA 02118

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