Head and neck cancers
Cancer can occur in any of the tissues or organs in the head and neck. There are over 30 different places that cancer can develop in the head and neck area.
We also have a video with more detail about the treatment of oral cancer.
Head and neck cancers include cancers of the mouth (oral cancers) and the throat, as well as rarer cancers of the nose, sinuses, salivary glands and middle ear.
Mouth cancers (oral cancers)
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The mouth is the most common place for head and neck cancer to develop.
Mouth cancer can develop on the lip, the tongue, the floor of the mouth (under the tongue), the inside of the cheek, the roof of the mouth (the hard palate), the area behind the wisdom teeth or the gum.
Most lip cancers occur on the bottom lip.
Cancer of the oral cavity (inside the mouth)
The most common places for cancer to develop inside the mouth are the side of the tongue and the floor of the mouth.
Doctors use different names to describe different areas of the throat and the cancers that can develop there.
Cancer of the nasopharynx
The nasopharynx is the highest part of the throat behind the nose. Cancers that occur here are called nasopharyngeal cancers.
Cancer of the oropharynx
The oropharynx is the part of the throat directly behind the mouth. It includes the soft part of the roof of the mouth (the soft palate), the base of the tongue (the part you can’t see), the tonsils and the back and side walls of the throat.
The most common places in the oropharynx for cancer to develop are the tonsils and the base of the tongue. We have more information about cancer of the oropharynx.
Cancer of the voice box (larynx)
This is the second most common place for head and neck cancer to develop. We have more information about cancer of the voice box.
Cancer of the thyroid gland
Cancer can also develop in the thyroid gland. It is treated differently from other types of head and neck cancer. We have more information about thyroid cancer.
Rarer cancers of the head and neck
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Cancer of the sinuses
There are air spaces called sinuses in the bones of the face alongside the nose. Cancers can develop in the lining of these sinuses
Cancer of the salivary glands
Salivary glands make saliva, which keeps the mouth moist. There are three major pairs of salivary glands:
parotid glands - which are found on each side of the face, just in front of the ears
submandibular glands - which are under each side of the jawbone
sublingual glands - which are under the floor of the mouth and below either side of the tongue.
Cancer of the middle ear
Rarely, cancer can develop in the middle ear. The middle ear is made up of the eardrum and a cavity called the tympanum, which contains three little bones (the malleus, incus, and stapes). These bones connect the eardrum to the inner ear. The tympanum is connected to the nasopharynx by a tube called the Eustachian tube.