Cancers of the head and neck are rare, however when they do occur they require specialist management. These cancers may occur in the mouth, nose, sinuses or throat, including the tonsils, back of the tongue, voice box (larynx) or swallowing passage (hypopharynx and oesophagus).
Head and neck cancers are typically caused by smoking and alcohol. More recently, tumours of the tonsils and tongue base have been associated with a virus, the same virus that causes cervical cancer in women (human papilloma virus).
The symptoms of these cancers can be varied but the presence of any of the following should prompt a thorough assessment by an ENT surgeon who specializes in head and neck cancer:
The treatment of these cancers can be complex and it requires input from many doctors- surgeons, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, radiologists and pathologists. I am the current chairman of the Royal Adelaide Hospital multi-disciplinary team for the management of head and neck cancers and also a member of the St Andrew’s Hospital head and neck cancer multi-disciplinary team. I present all of the cancer patients I treat at these meetings and provide advice to other treating doctors about their cases as well.