|Pictured above is a comparison of the dose distribution from a proton therapy treatment plan (left group of images) and an external beam photon treatment plan (right group of images) for a Head and Neck cancer patient with lymph node involvement. The proton plan allows dose to be isolated to the target volume and immediately surrounding areas completely sparing organs on the opposite side of the area being treated.
Head and neck cancer is a term used to describe a range of malignant tumors that can appear in or around the throat, larynx (voice box), nose, sinuses, and mouth.
Most head and neck cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, meaning they begin in the flat, squamous cells that make up the thin, surface layer (called the epithelium) of the structures in the head and neck. Directly beneath this lining, some areas of the head and neck have a layer of moist tissue, called the mucosa. If a cancer is limited to the squamous layer of cells, it is called carcinoma in situ. If the cancer has grown beyond this cell layer and moved into deeper tissue, then it is called invasive squamous cell carcinoma. If the cancer starts in the salivary glands, the tumor will usually be classified as an adenocarcinoma, adenoid cystic carcinoma, or mucoepidermoid carcinoma; each is a rare type of cancer.
There are five main types of head and neck cancer, named by the part of the body where they begin. For more information on each type, select a name below.
Laryngeal and Hypopharyngeal Cancer: The larynx (commonly called the voice box) is a tube-shaped organ in the neck that is important for breathing, talking, and swallowing. It is located at the top of the windpipe, or trachea. Meanwhile, the hypopharynx (also called the gullet) is the lower part of the throat that surrounds the larynx.
Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer: The nasal cavity is the space just behind the nose where air passes on the way to the throat, while the paranasal sinuses are the air-filled areas that surround the nasal cavity.
Nasopharyngeal Cancer: The nasopharynx is the air passageway at the upper part of the throat behind the nose.
Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancer: The oral cavity includes the mouth and tongue, while the oropharynx includes the middle of the throat from the tonsils to the tip of the voice box.
Salivary Gland Cancer: The salivary gland is tissue that produces saliva, which is the fluid that is released into the mouth to keep it moist and that contains enzymes that begin breaking down food.
Treatment options include surgery, radiation using protons, chemotherapy, or any combination of the three. Proton therapy is a very effective modality for treating H&N cancers. The pencil beam technology at McLaren Proton Treatment Center is an important tool for fighting cancer in these types of patients.