What is head and neck cancer?

Cancer can develop in any of the tissues or organs in the head and neck. Most commonly cancer starts to grow in the cells that form the lining of the mouth, nose, throat, ear or the surface of the tongue. Some of the types of cancer that can occur in the head and neck area are:

  • Oropharyngeal cancer : This includes the part of the throat directly behind the mouth,  the soft palate, the base of the tongue and the walls of the throat.
  • Cancer of the nose, nasopharynx and paranasal sinuses: This includes the area behind the nose (the nasophyrnx), the spaces next to the nose (the paranasal sinuses) and the lining of the nose, and nostrils.
  • Cancer of the salivary gland.
  • Cancer of the eye: This usually develops in the skin of the eyelids.
  • Cancer of the ear: Cancer can develop in the structure of the inner ear, but most develop in the skin of the ear.
  • Cancer of the larynx: Also called laryngeal cancer. The larynx is more commonly known as the voice box.

There are rarer types of cancer that can also affect the head and neck area and these include lymphoma (from cells in the lymphatic system, see lymphoma information), sarcomas (from cells which form muscles, cartilage or blood vessels) and melanomas (which start from cells that give colour and pigment to the eyes and skin).