Beaumont RCSI Cancer Centre

Head and Neck Cancer

Head and Neck CancerIntroduction

Cancers of the head and neck include cancers of the mouth, pharynx or throat, larynx or voice box, sinuses and salivary glands. Cancer occurs when normal cells change and grow in an abnormal way. Then they form a mass or tumour. In the head and neck, cancer usually begins in the cells that line the mucosal surfaces and these cancers are referred to as squamous cell carcinomas (SCC). Cancers can also begin in the salivary glands, sinuses, muscles or nerves in these areas but these are much less common than SCC.

Alcohol and tobacco use are two of the most important risk factors for developing head and neck cancer. There are other risk factors including infection with certain types of human papilloma virus (HPV), Epstein Barr virus infection (EBV) and occupational exposures to dust and other chemicals.

People who are at risk of cancer of the head and neck, particularly those who use tobacco can discuss with the team about supports available to help them stop using tobacco and reduce their cancer risk. A vaccine is now available to prevent HPV infection and this is now included in Irelands immunisation schedule.

A specialised team of healthcare professionals will be looking after you during your treatment. The team will include a head and neck oncology surgeon, plastic surgeon, radiation oncologist, medical oncologist, oncology clinical nurse specialist, speech and language therapist, dietician, physiotherapist, dentist and your GP.

  • Mouth Cancer (Oral Cavity)

    The oral cavity or mouth includes the lips, the front two thirds of the tongue, the gums, the lining inside the cheeks and lips, the bottom of the mouth under the tongue, the hard palate and a small area of gum behind the wisdom teeth.

    Symptoms of cancer in this area include an ulcer that isn’t healing, a growth or swelling in the mouth, trouble swallowing or speaking, unusual pain or bleeding in the mouth or swellings that cause dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable to wear.

    The mainstay of treatment of cancer in this area is surgery.


  • Throat Cancer (Pharynx)

    The pharynx or sometimes called throat is a hollow tube that leads from the nose to the oesophagus or food pipe. It has three parts: nasopharynx (upper part behind the nose), oropharynx (middle part that includes tonsils, soft palate and tongue base) and hypopharynx (lower part).

    Symptoms of cancer in this area include pain when swallowing, throat pain, ear pain, change in voice and trouble hearing in one ear.

    Treatment of cancers in this area is a combination of radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery.

  • Cancer of the Larynx

    The larynx, also known as the voice box, is found in the neck and contains vocal cords that allow us to speak and breathe.

    Symptoms of cancer in this area may include hoarseness or a change in voice, difficulty breathing, ear pain, a lump in the neck, coughing up blood or difficulty swallowing.

    Treatment for cancer in this area depends on the stage of the cancer. Early cancer can be treated with surgery or radiation. More advanced cases may require chemotherapy and radiotherapy or surgery to remove the voice box. Treatment of cancer in this area might affect how you eat, speak or breathe. You will be cared by a specialised multi-disciplinary team.


  • Cancer of the Paranasal Sinuses and Nasal Cavity

    The nasal cavity is a large air filled space behind the nose and it is divided into right and left by the septum. Each cavity is a continuation of one of the two nostrils. The paranasal sinuses are small hollow areas in the bones of the head surrounding the nose.

    Symptoms of cancer in this area include pain, chronic sinus infections or sinus blockage that does not clear, pain in the eye, nosebleeds, visual changes or loose teeth.

    Treatment of cancer in this area is usually surgery followed by radiation.


  • Cancer of the Salivary Glands

    Salivary glands or spit glands are located at the side of the face in front of the ears, in the floor of the mouth and throughout the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat. They release saliva into the mouth to help dissolve and digest food.

    Symptoms of this type of cancer include a swelling in the area, paralysis of the muscles of the face and pain in these areas that does not go away.

    Treatment of salivary gland cancer is mainly surgery with or without radiotherapy.


  • Tracheostomy

    A tracheostomy is a tube placed in your neck into an opening in your windpipe to help you breathe more easily. This may be used if you have an operation on your mouth or throat that causes swelling, in this case it can usually be removed in a few days.

    A tracheostomy tube may also be used if a cancer affecting your voice box or throat is making it difficult for you to breathe.

  • Treatment of Head and Neck Cancer

    Surgery is one of the main treatments for head and neck cancers. As well as surgery to remove the tumour, you may also have lymph nodes removed from your neck. Surgery may also involve removal of skin, muscle or bone in the area and a plastic surgeon may work with your surgeon to reconstruct the affected area. For more information on reconstructive surgery click here.

    Radiotherapy uses high energy rays to kill cancer cells. It can be used with chemotherapy and surgery or on its own. Side effects include pain in the area being treated, dry mouth, dental problems, mouth stiffness, tiredness and skin reactions. Side effects usually settle once treatment has finished but some may be long lasting.

    Chemotherapy may be used to cure or control your cancer. It also may be used in combination with radiotherapy as it enhances the effects of chemotherapy in certain cases. Side effects depend on the drug used and its dose. Side effects include sore mouth, nausea and vomiting, tiredness, hair loss, loss of appetite and numbness or tingling in the hands and feet.

    Targeted therapies, which target certain parts of the cancer cells that are different from normal cells and immunotherapy, which changes your immune system to help it fight cancer cells may also be used as part of your treatment.

  • Members of your Head and Neck Cancer Team

    Consultant Head and Neck Oncology Surgeon

    Professor James Paul O’Neill

    Secretary: Carol Lyons

    Tel: 01- 809 2725



    Mr Neville Shine

    Secretary: Lorraine Booth

    Tel: 01 – 797 4743



    Head and Neck Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist

    Emma Devoy Flood Tel: 01-852 8720



    Speech and Language Therapist

    Sara Brennan & Marie-Therese O’Callaghan

    Tel: 01-797 4183




    Eleanor Sweeney Tel: 01-797 7462



    St Anne’s Ward

    1st Floor Beaumont Hospital Tel: 01 – 809 2395/2401E-Mail:

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