Head and neck cancer – overview
- Head and neck cancer occurs mainly in adults, however, some children may present with either benign or malignant tumours of the head and neck
- Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) develop and support the communication skills of both the patient and communicative partners
- SLTs have a unique and essential role to help facilitate alaryngeal voice restoration post laryngectomy
What is head and neck cancer?
The term head and neck cancer describes a range of tumours. The most common places of head and neck cancers are the:
- Oral cavity
- Back part of the throat behind the oral cavity (oropharynx)
- Upper part of the throat behind the nose (nasopharynx)
- Bottom part of the throat (hypopharynx)
- Voice box (larynx)
- Nasal cavity
- Salivary glands
Treatments for these cancers may include surgery to remove structures essential for functions (e.g. voice box – a laryngectomy), radiotherapy, chemoradiotherapy or a combination of treatments.
These commonly affect a person’s ability to speak, use their voice, swallow, smell and breathe, significantly affecting quality of life. Left unsupported, these difficulties can also affect a person’s ability to participate in social activities and to return to work.
The size of the problem
- Around 62,530 people were living with head and neck cancer in the UK in 2010
- Head and neck cancer accounts for approximately 8,800 new case diagnosed in England and Wales each year
- In the UK, the incidence rate of head and neck cancer is 8 per 100,000
- Head and neck cancer is much more common in men than women. Oral cancer, the most common form of head and cancer, causes more deaths in males than females at a ratio of 2:1
For references to these statistics, please see our factsheet (PDF) on supporting people with head and neck cancer.