head and neck cancer

What You Need to Know About Head and Neck Cancer

Head and Neck Cancer AwarenessApril is Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month. Did you know that head and neck cancers account for approximately 3 percent of cancers diagnosed every year in the United States and affect more than twice as many men as women?

Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University is responding to the increased need by opening a new and innovative head and neck cancer clinic at Emory University Hospital Midtown. The new space on the 10th floor includes 22 care rooms that allow multidisciplinary providers to come directly to the patient during a single appointment. Winship at Emory radiation oncology experts are also offering treatment for certain patients at the new Emory Proton Therapy Center, just two blocks from Emory University Hospital Midtown.

Here is more information about head and neck cancers that will help you to be aware of symptoms and potential risk factors.

What is Head and Neck Cancer?

Head and neck cancer includes any cancer of the skin and mucosal surfaces of the head and neck, such as:

  • Mouth (gums and tongue)
  • Nose and sinuses
  • Oropharynx (tonsils, back of tongue)
  • Salivary glands
  • Skin of the head and neck
  • Throat, larynx

You use these organs for important functions every day, including speech, swallowing, smell and taste.

Smoking and drinking alcohol put you at greater risk of developing head and neck cancer. In addition, head and neck cancer, especially of the oropharynx and base of the tongue, may be linked to HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), a virus passed commonly during sexual activity.

Common Symptoms of Head and Neck Cancer

Head and neck cancer symptoms vary depending on the exact location, but the most common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty swallowing and/or pain when swallowing
  • Ear pain
  • Non-healing ulcers in the mouth
  • Pain in the head and neck that does not improve
  • Lump in the neck that does not resolve with antibiotics
  • Hoarseness or other chronic changes in voice
  • Unexplained loosening of the teeth

If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor about screening for head and neck cancer.

Advanced Treatment for Head and Neck Cancers

Winship’s multidisciplinary team of head and neck experts meets regularly to discuss the right treatment options for patients. Therapy may include surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or different types of radiation therapy, including proton therapy.

At the Emory Proton Therapy Center, you can access the world’s most advanced radiation technologies and treatments for specific cancers, including head and neck cancers, as well as renowned specialists from Winship at Emory.

Proton therapy is a specialized form of external beam radiation, an important part of successful treatment for many forms of cancer. Specifically, for head and neck cancers, proton therapy delivers radiation with proton particles directly to the tumor, greatly reducing the amount of radiation to healthy, normal tissues. This may help prevent side effects from treatment, such as dryness of the mouth or long-term dental decay. Proton therapy may be integrated into your overall care plan, which may include surgery, chemotherapy, or immunotherapy. Your doctor may also suggest other radiation treatment options depending on your particular form of cancer. In some cases, proton therapy may be the only treatment required.

Winship medical oncologists continue to see improved survival and quality of life for head and neck cancer patients who are treated with immunotherapy. Within the last three years, two FDA-approved drugs falling under the category of immunotherapeutic agents were cleared for use for metastatic cancers. Continued research to develop these drugs means you may experience fewer side effects when compared to chemotherapy.

Winship Cancer Institute surgeons are also changing the way head and neck cancer patients are treated through a minimally invasive procedure called Transoral Robotic Surgery, or TORS. During a TORS procedure, surgical robot arms are inserted into the patient’s mouth and used to remove cancerous tumors in the tonsils or back of the tongue.

Looking to the Future with Clinical Trials

At Winship at Emory, clinical trials allow access to novel treatments that aren’t yet available through standard clinical practice, or that may not be available anywhere else. The Emory Proton Therapy Center will also offer clinical trials alongside Winship to provide patients with more options. There are currently more than a dozen clinical trials specifically focused on head and neck cancers with the use of immunotherapy. Trials are also focused on various forms of metastatic diseases. It’s another way we’re focused on improving care and standards.

Learn more about advanced treatments for head and neck cancers at the Emory Proton Therapy Center and Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University.

Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital to offer Gamma Knife Treatment

Winship Cancer Institute at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital is the first hospital in the state and one of only seven medical centers in the nation to offer advanced radiosurgery for the brain with the Gamma Knife Icon. The device delivers minimally invasive radiation treatment for malignant and nonmalignant tumors, trigeminal neuralgia (facial pain syndrome) and other neurological disorders.

“This technology pinpoints the tumor with the greatest accuracy to date, and also preserves cognitive function by avoiding critical brain structures. The Gamma Knife Icon is the best combination of all we’ve come to learn about stereotactic radiosurgery for the brain,” says Peter Rossi, MD, Winship director of radiation oncology at Emory Saint Joseph’s.

Gamma Knife Treatment

Gamma Knife treatment is an alternative to open brain surgery, as it does not require a scalpel or an incision. The procedure treats brain lesions with enough radiation to control them. As a result, the lesion will disappear, shrink or stop growing. This often occurs in the most critical, difficult-to-access areas of the brain. With Gamma Knife treatment, patients avoid whole brain radiation therapy, and do not experience side effects such as memory loss.

The Gamma Knife treatment lasts from 20 minutes to two hours, and patients go home the same day. The day of the procedure, the patient will first receive an MRI. The treatment team, a neurosurgeon, radiation oncologist and physicist, will then use the MRI to carefully plan and identify the area of the brain to be treated. Next, the patient is fitted with either a head frame or mask to stabilize the head during the procedure. The patient is then moved into the machine for treatment.

“There is minimal pain involved for patients,” says Shannon Kahn, MD, Winship radiation oncologist at Emory Saint Joseph’s. “After being fitted with either the head frame or mask, patients lay on a table with a comfortable mattress and often sleep during treatment. After treatment is complete, patients can go home the same day.”

Gamma Knife Patient Experience

Joseph Garrett, the first patient at Emory Saint Joseph’s to be treated with the Gamma Knife Icon, was pleased with his treatment. Garrett, who experienced vision problems and was later diagnosed with a benign brain tumor, said, “I didn’t experience any side effects at all.” He reported treatment to be painless, and immediately returned to normal activities.

Screenings Help Catch Head and Neck Cancers

head and  neck cancer screeningsA recent study reported in JAMA Otolaryngology found that most Americans know little to nothing about head and neck cancers and could not name the most common symptoms and risk factors. This is a problem. If you wait months or even years to get a sore in your mouth or swelling in your neck checked by a doctor, you could be ignoring a sign of head and neck cancer that’s progressing. And, as with many other forms of cancer, the earlier a head and neck or oral cancer is diagnosed, the less invasive the treatment is and the higher the chance of cure. As a doctor who sees many patients with these cancers, one message comes through loud and clear: don’t ignore symptoms.

On April 17th, doctors and staff with Emory’s Department of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery will hold a free head and neck screening at Emory University Hospital Midtown (EUHM). This is a chance for patients who might be suffering any symptoms or have any of the stated risk factors for head and neck cancer, to have a simple, free exam. This involves a physical exam of the neck and inside the mouth, including the middle throat, soft palate, the base of the tongue, and the tonsils. As a best practice, Emory Healthcare suggests this screening procedure should also be a part of a routine dental visit.

Get a Free Head and Neck Screening on April 17th:

Emory University Hospital Midtown
Department of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery
9th Floor, suite 4400
550 Peachtree Street, NE
Atlanta, GA 30308

Date: 4/17/2015
Time: 8:00 AM- 12:00 PM

This is a first come – first serve walk in clinic. No Appointment Necessary.

For more information:
Phone: (404) 778-3381
Email: meryl.kaufman@emoryhealthcare.org

Important Information on Head and Neck Cancers:

Head and neck cancer involves skin or mucosal surfaces of the head and neck and includes cancers of the mouth, throat, nasal sinuses, skin of the head and neck and cancers of the major salivary glands. Head and neck cancers account for approximately 3% of cancers diagnosed every year in the United States and affect more than twice as many men as women.

Symptoms of head and neck cancer vary somewhat by site but often include non-healing ulcers in the mouth, unexplained loosening of the teeth, and pain that does not improve. Patients with cancers of the throat or salivary glands will often come in with a painless lump in the neck that does not resolve with antibiotics. Other patient will have ear pain or difficulty and/or pain when swallowing.

Potential Risk Factors for Head and Neck Cancer:

Head and neck cancer has historically been most associated with tobacco and alcohol abuse, and may also be associated with marijuana use. Recently, the human papilloma virus (HPV), a virus commonly passed during sexual activity, has been widely implicated in cancers of the tonsils and base of tongue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV usually goes away by itself and does not cause health problems, but may be responsible for a growing number of oral cancers. Other risk factors include poor oral hygiene, radiation exposure, and Epstein-Barr Virus (Mononucleosis).

Every year, the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance promotes an awareness week in April that is highlighted by free head and neck cancer screenings all across the country. Our own free screening at EUHM is open to anyone in the community and we enthusiastically invite you to participate. We look forward to providing you with the opportunity to proactively advance your health on April 17!

About Dr. El-Deiry

Mark El-Deiry, MDMark W. El-Deiry, MD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery, in the Emory University School of Medicine. He also serves as Chief of the Division of Head and Neck Surgery, Department of Otolaryngology, and Director of the Head and Neck Oncology Surgery Center. He is a member of the surgical team that specializes in treating patients with head and neck cancers including complex microvascular reconstructive surgery.

El-Deiry and the entire head and neck team are interested in promoting screenings that help detect head and neck cancers in early stages. His research interests include quality of life in head and neck cancer survivors and quality outcomes involved with treating patients with advanced stage head and neck cancer.

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