An NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center
By City of Hope | April 29, 2016


Few cancers are as frightening as tumors of the head and neck. The possibilities of loss of function, as well as disfigurement, make these cancers particularly scary. April is Head & Neck Cancer Awareness Month, a good time to remember to be aware of symptoms in this area, and that early diagnosis is the key to minimizing treatment side effects.


Pain or hoarseness in the throat that gets worse, not better, and difficulty swallowing are some warning signs, as are ulcers or sores that don’t go away. Oncologists are seeing a rise in cancers of the oropharynx, which is the part of the throat that includes the base of the tongue and the tonsils — an area that can be difficult to treat.

The key to avoiding treatments that compromise speaking or eating is getting in to have your doctor take a look and possibly a biopsy when symptoms occur — not waiting for them to grow worse. These cancers are usually diagnosed through an endoscope, a simple in-office procedure that gives the physician a bird’s eye view of the entire throat.

The main treatments for head and neck cancer are surgery and radiation. If the tumor is small and no lymph nodes are involved, surgery is usually sufficient. If the cancer is more advanced, chemotherapy may be added to surgery and radiation.

Depending upon the stage and location of the cancer, complex procedures are sometimes necessary to eradicate these tumors while preserving vital structures and function. Surgical expert Robert Kang, M.D., M.P.H, an assistant clinical professor in City of Hope’s Division of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery, specializes in advanced facial reconstructive and microvascular procedures for patients with complex and challenging head and neck cancers.

In the RadioMD interview below, he discusses the challenges of treating these tumors, as well as what causes them, how risk factors have changed, how they are diagnosed and their prognosis.


As we have fewer smokers, the traditional head and neck cancers linked to smoking are decreasing, Kang shares. Listen to the complete interview to hear him discuss head and neck cancers’ link to a common sexually transmitted disease, as well as share his advice for the best possible outcome.


If you are looking for a second opinion or consultation about your treatment, request an appointment online or contact us at 800-826-HOPE. Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.

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