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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Oral, Head and Neck Cancer

According to the Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, the term head and neck cancers includes cancers of the mouth, nose, sinuses, salivary glands, throat and lymph nodes in the neck. Most begin in the moist tissues that line the mouth, nose and throat. This includes tumors found in:

  • The oral cavity (or mouth). The lips, tongue, teeth, gums, lining inside the lips and cheeks, floor of the mouth (under the tongue), roof of the mouth, and small area behind the wisdom teeth are all part of the oral cavity.
  • The oropharynx (which includes the back one-third of the tongue, the back of the throat, and the tonsils).
  • Nasopharynx (which includes the area behind the nose).
  • Hypopharynx (or lower part of the throat).
  • The larynx (or voice box, located in front of the neck in the region of the Adam's apple). Cancer can occur in any of the three regions in the larynx: the glottis (where the vocal cords are), the supraglottis (the area above the glottis), and the subglottis (the area that connects the glottis to the windpipe).

The most frequently occurring cancers of the head and neck area are oral cancers and laryngeal cancers. Almost half of all the head and neck cancers occur in the oral cavity, and a third of the cancers are found in the larynx. By definition, the term "head and neck cancers" usually excludes tumors that occur in the brain.

Internet Resources

MedlinePlus: Head and Neck Cancer
Developed at the National Library of Medicine specifically for health care consumers, this site is a portal for both government-sponsored and privately developed health information targeting the lay public. Site features extensive information about head and neck cancer and how to manage it.

Oral Cancer Foundation
The Oral Cancer Foundation is the only national and international organization concerned exclusively with oral cancer. It is dedicated to prevention, support, education, and research.

National Cancer Institute
This National Cancer Institute (NCI) booklet (NIH Publication No. 03-1574) has important information to help people with oral cancer and their family and friends better understand this disease. It discusses possible causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of the disease. It also has information about rehabilitation and sources of support to help patients cope with oral cancer.


  • Meeting The Challenges Of Oral Head And Neck Cancer: A Survivor’s Guide, 2nd ed. Leupold, N. E. and Sciubba, J. J. eds. 2011.

  • Head And Neck Cancer. Clarke, L. K. and Dropkin, M. J. eds. 2006.

  • Head And Neck Cancer Imaging. Hermans, R. ed. 2006.

Journals and Articles

  • “High tech oral cancer detection.” Duke Medicine Health News, 16(11):4-5. Nov. 2010

  • “Head and neck cancer: changing epidemiology, diagnosis, and treatment.” Marur, Shanthi and Forastiere, Arlene A. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 83(4):489-501, 2008 Apr.

  • “Immunotherapy for head and neck cancer.” Wu, Annie A.; Niparko, Kevin J.; and Pai, Sara I. Journal of Biomedical Science. 15(3):275-89, 2008 May.

  • “Combining molecular therapeutics with radiotherapy for head and neck cancer.” Riesterer, O; Milas, L; and Ang, K. Journal of Surgical Oncology. 97(8):708-11, 2008 Jun 15.

  • “Chemotherapy in the treatment of locally advanced head and neck cancer.” Forastiere, Arlene A. Journal of Surgical Oncology. 97(8):701-7, 2008 Jun 15.


The organizations listed in Internet Resources provide support, education and advocacy.

Contact Us

For more information, please contact the Health Learning Center at 312-926-5465 or HLC@nmh.org.


Last UpdateMarch 23, 2012