Head & Neck Cancer

The head and neck is a complex anatomical region in which many different tumour types may arise with varying behaviour according to exact site of origin. Most types of head and neck cancer spread locally within the head and neck region but rarely spread into the main organs of the body (distant metastases). The treatment of head and neck cancer is technically challenging.

Tumours typically arise from the mucosal linings of the upper airways or digestive system and may compromise the basic functions of breathing, eating and drinking at an early stage. Surgery and radiotherapy are both highly active treatment modalities, and the cure rate ranges from 30-95% depending on stage and site of disease.

The natural history of predominantly localised disease, and the radiosensitivity of the majority of head and neck cancers make radiotherapy an attractive and important curative modality of treatment.

Radiotherapy is the treatment of choice for many tumours as it has the advantage of organ preservation, and therefore the functional outcome is often better than with surgical approaches. The side effects of radiotherapy are frequent, and may compromise the quality of life of patients after cure.

The proximity of head and neck tumours to radiosensitive organs sometimes limits the dose of radiation that can be delivered, and this may contribute to local treatment failure.

Complex radiotherapy techniques have been developed to reduce the toxicity of radiotherapy and maximise quality of life after cancer treatment.

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