Some head and neck tumors are cancerous, while others are benign. Benign masses include cysts, thyroid masses, vascular masses, and salivary gland masses. Benign masses do not spread (metastasize) to surrounding tissue and are not cancerous. Nevertheless, they can be serious if they impact nerves or place pressure in the head and neck, and for this reason they are often removed surgically.
Cancerous tumors include squamous cell carcinomas of the tongue, mouth, and throat, as well as other cancers of the thyroid, larynx, salivary gland, nasal passages, sinuses, and brain. They may arise in those sites (primary tumors) or spread there from other sites (secondary tumors or metastases). Cancerous tumors must be treated promptly to reduce the chance that they may spread to other organs.