The term "head and neck cancers" refers to a broad category of cancers occurring in the head or neck region, including the nasal cavity, sinuses, lips, mouth, salivary glands, throat, tonsils or larynx. Most head and neck cancers begin in the squamous cells that line the moist surfaces of these areas. Major risk factors for developing these cancers include heavy use of tobacco and alcohol.

Head and neck cancers can disfigure the face and neck and impact speech, sight, the ability to swallow and the sense of smell. Treatment depends on the type, location and progression (stage) of your cancer, but can include any combination of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

  • Expertise. Mayo Clinic experts in head and neck cancers direct a multispecialty team to coordinate the diagnosis and treatment of your cancer for the best results.
  • Latest treatments. At Mayo Clinic, you have access to experienced specialists and the latest treatments for head and neck cancers, such as intensity-modulated radiation therapy. Mayo surgeons have developed a robotic surgical approach to tumor removal that offers better access to some types of head and neck tumors, with fewer adverse side effects and better quality of life compared with standard surgical approaches.
  • Minimally invasive techniques. Mayo's head and neck surgeons use minimally invasive through the mouth (transoral) techniques when appropriate. Transoral robotic surgery is an option for some types of head and neck cancers.
  • Rehabilitation. At Mayo Clinic, your cancer treatment includes a personalized rehabilitation plan to help promote recovery and improve quality of life. Rehabilitation requires the expertise of a team of specialists, such as dentists, prosthodontists, nurses, speech pathologists and physical therapists.
  • Comprehensive cancer center. Mayo Clinic Cancer Center meets strict standards for a National Cancer Institute comprehensive cancer center, recognizing scientific excellence and a multispecialty approach focused on cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.


Specific head and neck cancers are identified by the site where they begin. Not usually included in this grouping of head and neck cancers are cancers of the brain, eye and thyroid, and cancers of the skin, muscles, and bones of the head and neck.

Learn more about the diagnosis and treatment options available at Mayo Clinic for these head and neck cancers:

Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., are ranked among the Best Hospitals for cancer by U.S. News & World Report. Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., is ranked high performing for cancer by U.S. News & World Report.

At Mayo Clinic, we assemble a team of specialists who take the time to listen and thoroughly understand your health issues and concerns. We tailor the care you receive to your personal health care needs. You can trust our specialists to collaborate and offer you the best possible outcomes, safety and service.

Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit medical institution that reinvests all earnings into improving medical practice, research and education. We're constantly involved in innovation and medical research, finding solutions to improve your care and quality of life. Your doctor or someone on your medical team is likely involved in research related to your condition.

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Mayo Clinic works with hundreds of insurance companies and is an in-network provider for millions of people. In most cases, Mayo Clinic doesn't require a physician referral. Some insurers require referrals or may have additional requirements for certain medical care. All appointments are prioritized on the basis of medical need.

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Mayo Clinic conducts research related to tumors of the head and neck through the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group and the Department of Otorhinolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery.

One of the major advancements Mayo Clinic has contributed to the field of head and neck surgery is developing a robotic tonsil and tongue base tumor removal technique. This technique allows better access to tonsil and tongue base tumors, results in fewer adverse side effects, and improves quality of life after surgery. Other areas of research involve:

  • Drug development, including immunotherapy and targeted biological agents
  • Evaluation of new radiation therapy and chemotherapy combinations
  • Prevention of side effects of radiation therapy to improve quality of life
  • Investigation of gene therapy
  • Evaluation of new technologies


See a list of publications by Mayo Clinic doctors on head and neck cancers on PubMed, a service of the National Library of Medicine.

Jun. 27, 2013