Head and neck cancers include tumors of the tongue base, tonsils, salivary glands, thyroid and parathyroid glands, nasal cavity, larynx, and pharynx, as well as skull base tumors like acoustic neuromas, pituitary tumors, meningiomas, and chordomas. While many head and neck cancers are caused by smoking and alcohol abuse, doctors are witnessing an increase in certain cancers due to infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). At NewYork-Presbyterian, our head and neck cancer specialists take a team approach to treating your cancer. Their goal is threefold: to destroy your tumor, to preserve your appearance and function, and to minimize the effects of treatment on your quality of life.
World-Recognized Leaders in Cancer Care
We are home to two of the nation's leading cancer centers: the National Cancer Institute-designated Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center of New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center (one of only four comprehensive cancer centers in New York State) and the Weill Cornell Medicine Meyer Cancer Center in Partnership with NewYork-Presbyterian.
A Team of Head and Neck Cancer Experts
Head and neck cancers often require multiple types of therapy to be treated effectively. Your team includes head and neck surgeons, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists who customize a plan of therapy that meets your needs, as well as supportive care from dietitians, speech and swallowing therapists, and dental oncologists to ensure you are in the best health possible during and after treatment.
Finding Head and Neck Cancers Early
Each spring, NewYork-Presbyterian offers free screenings for oral cancer and other head and neck cancers. These cancers, as well as precancerous changes in the mouth, can often be found early through a simple examination. Finding and treating cancer as early as possible enhances the chance of a cure.
Surgery with Attention to Appearance
If you've been diagnosed with a cancer of the head and neck region, you may be concerned about how treatment may affect the way you look. We are, too, which is why we use minimally invasive surgical techniques whenever we can.
- Operating through the mouth and nose. Our surgeons often remove tumors endoscopically, through a scope inserted through your nose or mouth. We also perform robotic surgery through the mouth — an approach called transoral robotic surgery. These approaches allow the surgeon to operate without making incisions in your skin, reducing the length of your hospital stay and speeding your recovery.
- Leadership in endoscopic sinus and skull base surgery. Our head and neck surgeons collaborate with colleagues in neurosurgery to remove a variety of skull base tumors and to repair complicated skull base defects.
- Reconstructive and revision surgery. If you need more extensive surgery, our head and neck surgeons work closely with our plastic and reconstructive surgeons to preserve your appearance and function. We also have special expertise in "revision surgery" for previously treated patients whose cancer returns.
Precision Medicine for Personalized Treatment
Our head and neck surgery teams analyze the genetic profile of your tumor to identify the molecules associated with its growth. We then use this information to choose the most effective chemotherapy drugs and radiation oncology regimen for you, to give you the best chance of a cure.
A Comprehensive Array of Treatments…All in One Location
Many people with head and neck cancers receive chemotherapy and radiation therapy to kill cancer cells that may remain in the body after surgery. Sometimes we give treatment before surgery to reduce the size of the tumor, and often we give it after surgery.
- Chemotherapy. You can receive chemotherapy in our modern and comfortable infusion suites, including targeted therapies designed to inhibit the proteins driving your cancer's growth.
- Immunotherapy. Some patients with advanced head and neck cancer may receive treatment with pembrolizumab. This medication works by boosting the ability of your immune system to recognize and kill cancer cells. Clinical trials are also under way to evaluate other immunotherapies for head and neck cancer.
- Precise radiation. Our radiation oncologists typically use intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) for head and neck cancers, which delivers highly targeted radiation of various intensities shaped to the contours of your tumor. We also use image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT), which takes into account tumor movement and response to treatment over time. Some patients benefit from radiation given during surgery or directly applied to your tumor (brachytherapy).
- Chemoradiation. Sometimes your chemotherapy and radiation therapy are given over the same period. If this is the case, you can often conveniently receive chemotherapy and radiation treatments on the same day, in the same hospital.
Clinical Trials for Head and Neck Cancers
We participate in clinical trials to evaluate new approaches to caring for people with head and neck cancers. Our researchers are evaluating new surgical techniques; exploring rapid head and neck cancer screening methods using oral swabs; looking for new molecular therapeutic targets; improving the identification of thyroid and parathyroid cancers, and advancing the treatment of head and neck cancers in patients with Fanconi anemia. You may have the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial of a promising new therapy.
Supporting Your Recovery
We understand that a diagnosis of cancer can be challenging for you as well as your loved ones. That's why we offer a full range of psychosocial and other support services for people with head and neck cancers and their families. Our nutritionists, social workers, rehabilitation therapists, speech and swallowing therapists, palliative care experts and others will help you and your loved ones address the effects of cancer and its treatment — physical, emotional, and spiritual.
During and after your therapy our dedicated team of speech and swallowing experts will help you to recover from your treatment and return to function in the shortest possible time. We understand the burden that cancer can place on your life and the lives of your loved ones, and we do whatever we can to lessen that burden.
Specialists and Subspecialists in Every Area
NewYork-Presbyterian is known throughout the world as a leading provider of health care. As a major medical center, we can address all of your healthcare needs, such as co-existing conditions like heart disease and diabetes, and connect you with the specialists you need to meet those needs.