Types of Head & Neck Cancer

The majority of head and neck cancers are squamous cell carcinoma, arising from the flat cells which line the surfaces of the mouth and throat. Other rarer tumours arise from saliva glands or mucous glands which also are present on these surfaces.

Tumours arising in the head and neck region are classified by the site of their organ of origin. The main sites are mouth (oral cavity), including tongue, lips, cheeks and gums; throat (pharynx) including posterior tongue, tonsils and palate; Nose and nasopharynx; voice box (larynx) and upper gullet (oesophagus). Tumours of the skin, neck, and salivary glands are also frequently treated.

The classification of tumours by site of origin as described above is important in defining the behaviour of tumours, the treatment and also outcome/prognosis.

The initial tumour arising from the surface of the mouth or throat is called the primary tumour. Often tumour spread has occurred to lymph nodes (or lymph glands) in the neck. These are called local lymph node metastases and typically occur in the upper or mid neck.

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