Head and neck cancer

We will provide personalised care and support during your diagnosis and treatment. Charles is fellowship trained in head and neck cancer surgery and offers a rapid diagnostic service.

There were almost 5000 new cases of head and neck cancer in Australia in 2017. Head and neck cancer is more common in those with a history of alcohol and smoking use. The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) may also cause cancer, typically of the tonsil and back of tongue; patients have usually been exposed to the virus many years previously. Multiple different sites in the head and neck can be involved including skin, nose and sinuses, nasopharynx, lip, mouth, tongue, tonsil, base of tongue, salivary glands, thyroid, larynx and oesophagus; each will have their own slightly different treatment plans.

Head and neck cancer can present with a lump in the neck, voice changes, an ulcer or lump in the mouth, bleeding from the mouth or throat, difficulty swallowing or persistent pain in the ear. Cancer of the head and neck is very treatable, with the treatments being much more successful with earlier diagnosis.

Lumps or ulcers in the mouth or throat may need a biopsy (small specimen taken) if they fail to resolve within a couple of weeks. A thorough inspection

of the throat and voice box is offered by panendoscopy, possibly with biopsies. Scans may also be requested (CT, ultrasound, PET CT and/or MRI). These investigations are usually enough to stage (determine extent) of the disease process prior to treatment plans being made by a multidisciplinary team. Treatment may be a combination of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy depending on type, site and stage of disease.

Skin cancers are common in Australia and are related to ultraviolet (UV) light exposure. The vast majority of small cancers are easy to remove with surgery but advanced cases involving the lymph nodes or cranial nerves require more extensive treatment. The three most common types are squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma (previously known as rodent ulcer) and melanoma. Persistent skin ulcers or abnormal pigmentations may indicate a suspicious process; a biopsy will make the diagnosis. Depending on the type of skin cancer, treatment will usually be surgical, possibly with radiotherapy or chemotherapy for advanced disease.