Head and Neck Cancer Program
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The Head and Neck Cancer Center is a major provider for patients with early-stage, recurrent, or aggressive head and neck cancers. The nationally recognized team of multidisciplinary specialists who care for these patients collaborate to manage patient care from the first consultation through treatment and follow-up. They combine their expertise in patient care with state-of-the-art treatment options while actively participating in clinical trials to provide tomorrow’s treatments today.
For more information or to refer a patient, call 617.414.4913 or email [email protected]. Patients with a diagnosis or strong suspicion of cancer are seen within 72 hours.
Hear directly from patients about their experiences with BMC's Head and Neck Cancer Program. Have a story you'd like to share with us? Email Us!
Moakley Building 617.414.4913 [email protected]
Conditions We Treat
Oral cancer, specifically cheek cancer, can form in any part of the mouth. Most cheek cancers begin in the cells that cover the surfaces of the cheek. Tests to diagnose oral cancer include a physical exam, endoscopy, biopsy, and imaging tests.
Cancers of the ear and temporal bone are rare. The most common type is basal skin carcinoma (a type of skin cancer), which causes a tumor on the outside of your ear. Squamous cell cancer, another type of skin cancer, is also common and starts deeper within your ear. Both types of cancer can grow further into your ear and bones if not treated.
Esophageal cancer occurs the esophagus, which is the tube that connects the throat to the stomach. This type of cancer is more common in men than women and is not very common in the United States.
Gum cancer is a type of oral cancer that grows on the surface of the gums. It is more common in men and people over age 40.
There are many types of head and neck cancers, including cancers that occur in the mouth, those that affect the nasal passages and other area cancers, including thyroid and parathyroid cancers. Treatment depends on the type, location and size of the cancer. Each year, more than 55,000 Americans will develop head and neck cancer. Head and neck cancers are curable if caught early.
Oral cancer, specifically lip cancer, can form in any part of the mouth. Most oral cancers begin in the cells that cover the surfaces of the lips. Tests to diagnose oral cancer include a physical exam, endoscopy, biopsy, and imaging tests.
Nasopharyngeal cancer is a rare type of throat cancer. It starts in the upper part of the throat behind your nose and just above the roof of your mouth (called the nasopharynx). Both cancerous and non-cancerous tumors can grow in your nasopharynx.
At Boston Medical Center, the care of patients with oral cancer is a collaborative, multidisciplinary process. Organizing services around each patient, BMC providers bring together the expertise of diverse specialists and manage their patient's care from the first consultation and diagnosis through treatment and follow-up visits all in one location.
Oropharyngeal cancer occurs in the tissue of the oropharynx, the middle part of the throat that includes the base of the tongue, the tonsils, the soft palate and the walls of the pharynx, which is the cavity behind the nose and the mouth.
Cancer of the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses is rare. Doctors diagnose nasal cancer with imaging tests, lighted tube-like instruments that look inside the nose, and biopsies. The paranasal sinuses are small hollow spaces around the nose. They are lined with cells that make mucus, keeping the nose from becoming dry.
Parathyroid cancer is a rare type of cancer that develops in one of your four parathyroid glands. These glands are in the base of your neck, on the thyroid gland. They make a type of hormone called parathyroid hormone, which controls the calcium in your body.
Salivary gland cancer is a rare type of head and neck cancer in the salivary glands which make saliva and then empty the saliva into openings in the mouth called ducts. Doctors diagnose salivary gland cancer using a physical exam, imaging tests, and a biopsy.
The skin is the largest organ in our body, and is made up of two major layers (epidermis and dermis), as well as various types of cells. The top (or outer) layer of the skin, the epidermis, is composed of three types of cells: flat, scaly cells on the surface called squamous cells; round cells called basal cells; and melanocytes, cells that provide skin its color and protect against skin damage. The inner layer of the skin, the dermis, is the layer that contains the nerves, blood vessels, and sweat glands. Skin cancer is a disease in which cancerous (malignant) cells are found in the outer layers of your skin.
The skull base is the part of your skull behind your eyes and nose, made up of five bones. Your brain rests on your skull base and your spinal cord, blood vessels, and nerves pass through it. Skull base tumors can grow inside the skull or outside the skull base. Cancerous skull base tumors are rare, but non-cancerous (benign) tumors can also grow in the skull base.
Your throat is a tube made of muscle that goes from behind your nose to your neck. Throat cancer is a type of head and neck cancer. There are several different types of throat cancer, and each is named for the part of the throat where the cancer is. Throat cancer can develop in your oropharynx, hypopharynx, nasopharynx, or your larynx (voice box). In each type, cancer is most likely to begin in the cells that line the inside of your throat.
Thyroid cancer is very common, particularly in women. It is now one of the most common cancers found in women.
Most tongue cancers begin in the cells that cover the surfaces of your tongue. Tests to diagnose oral cancer include a physical exam, endoscopy, biopsy, and imaging tests.
Tonsil cancer is a type of cancer that grows on the tonsils. Tonsils are the round pieces of tissue that hang in the back of the throat. As part of the body’s immune system, they help fight off illness. People who have had their tonsils removed can still get tonsil cancer in the tissue that is left behind.
Cancer of the voice box, or laryngeal cancer, is not as well known by the general public as some other types of cancer, yet it is not a rare disease.
The goal of cancer surgery is to remove the cancerous tissue and a ring of normal tissue around it. The surgery may also include removing lymph nodes from the neck. Reconstructive plastic surgery may be needed if the cancer is widespread and requires extensive tissue removal. These may include surgery to the tongue, jawbone, facial skin, pharynx, or larynx. In cases such as this, tissue from other parts of the body, like the forearm or leg, can be transplanted to give patients the best possible cosmetic and functional outcomes.
Radiation uses special equipment to deliver high-energy particles, such as x-rays, gamma rays, electron beams or protons, to kill or damage cancer cells. Radiation (also called radiotherapy, irradiation, or x-ray therapy) can be delivered internally through seed implantation or externally using linear accelerators (called external beam radiotherapy, or EBRT).
External Beam Radiation Therapy
External beam radiation therapy is one of the most common types of radiation for cancer treatment. Radiation comes from a machine outside the body and delivers radiation to a specific location inside the body.
CyberKnife delivers highly targeted beams of radiation directly into tumors, in a pain-free, non-surgical way. Guided by specialized imaging software, we can track and continually adjust treatment at any point in the body, and without the need for the head frames and other equipment that are needed for some other forms of radiosurgery.
Chemotherapy is a medication or combination of medications used to treat cancer. Chemotherapy can be given orally (as a pill) or injected intravenously (IV).
For patients with advanced-stage melanoma, immunotherapy may improve the body’s natural immune response to cancer. Immunotherapy recruits the body’s own immune system and uses it to fight cancer all over the body, making it difficult for cancer cells to hide or develop defenses against it. Immunotherapy has the potential to keep working even after the patient has completed treatment.
Integrative medicine practices have been shown to reduce cancer-related symptoms such as pain, anxiety, nausea, and fatigue. The Program for Integrative Medicine and Health Care Disparities in the Department of Family Medicine at BMC combines conventional medical treatments with evidence-based complementary therapies. Free therapeutic massage to decrease preoperative anxiety and postoperative pain in cancer patients undergoing surgical procedures is available. In the Moakley Building, where BMC conducts much of its cancer care, a registered yoga instructor holds free biweekly yoga classes, and a licensed acupuncturist offers free acupuncture to cancer patients. Participants in these sessions have gained notable clinical benefits, reporting decreases in pain, depression, anxiety, nausea, and fatigue. Services to individual patients complement group activities. Consultations that focus on stress management, nutrition, and coordination of complementary therapies are also available.
BMC’s comprehensive Head and Neck Cancer Center of Excellence team includes physicians who work in head and neck surgical oncology and skull base surgery, radiation oncology, medical oncology, pathology, radiology, nuclear medicine, and speech language pathology. The team’s patient-centered, multidisciplinary approach assures each patient benefits from the collaborative expertise of physicians uniquely focused on their individual needs.
Head and Neck Reconstructive Surgery Team
Assistant Professor, Boston University School of Medicine
Oral Cancer, Oral Pathology, Jaw Tumors, Oral and Maxillofacial Reconstructive Surgery, Microvascular Surgery
Oral / Head and Neck Cancer; Microvascular Reconstructive Surgery; Nerve Repair
Professor, Department of Neurological Surgery
Professor of Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery, Boston University School of Medicine
Assistant Professor, Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Boston University School of Medicine
Speech Language Pathology Team
Dysphagia (swallowing problems), Dysphonia (voice problems), Cognitive Deficits and Aphasia (language problems), Reflux-related disorders
Dysphagia (swallowing problems), Dysphonia (voice problems), Reflux-related disorders, Alaryngeal Rehabilitation included Tracheoesophageal (TEP) Voice Restoration/Management
Dysphagia (swallowing problems), Alaryngeal rehabilitation including tracheoesophageal (TEP) voice restoration/management, Evaluation and treatment of swallowing problems after head and neck cancer
Briana Pineau, MS, RD, LDN
BMC offers a number of clinical trials specifically for head and neck cancer patients. Promising new techniques in the diagnosis, treatment, and care of patients with head and neck cancers are tested in these studies. The number and types of clinical trials available are constantly changing. View an up-to-date list of ongoing trials here. Those interested in participating in any clinical trials at BMC should talk with their physician.
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