Is Surgery Required to Treat Head and Neck Cancers?

Head and neck cancers can be treated in various ways depending on different factors, including location, type, size, and cancer stage. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy are the main treatments for head and neck cancers.

These treatments may be done individually or combined. Keep reading to learn more about head and neck cancers and what to expect from treatment.

Types of Head and Neck Cancer

There are many kinds of head and neck cancer, including:

Hypopharyngeal Cancer

Hypopharyngeal cancer is a type of throat cancer that starts in the hypopharynx. The hypopharynx is the part of the throat found behind the voice box.

Hypopharyngeal cancer occurs when abnormal squamous cells develop in the lining of the hypopharynx. These tumors often grow beyond the throat to nearby tissue and into the chest cavity, lungs, and bones.

As a result, many patients see their doctor about hypopharyngeal cancer once it’s at a more advanced stage.

Risk Factors of Hypopharyngeal Cancer

The most common risk factors for developing hypopharyngeal cancer are smoking, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol consumption. Other risk factors include:

  • HPV infection
  • Asbestos exposure
  • Genetic factors
  • Chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • A history of ingesting certain poisons like lye

Signs and Symptoms of Hypopharyngeal Cancer

Some of the symptoms associated with hypopharyngeal cancer are:

  • Throat pain
  • Having trouble swallowing
  • Ear pain
  • Breathy or hoarse voice
  • Bleeding from the throat
  • Weight loss
  • Noisy or difficult breathing
  • Coughing when drinking liquids
  • Feeling as though something is stuck on the throat

Treating Hypopharyngeal Cancer

Patients with hypopharyngeal cancer may receive a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Surgery is also a common treatment and can be used to treat all stages of hypopharyngeal cancer.

If surgery is the first line of treatment, some patients might receive radiation and chemotherapy after surgery. Undergoing radiation and chemotherapy after surgery can help eliminate any remaining cancer cells.

Treatment provided after surgery, also called adjuvant therapy, minimizes the risk of cancer returning.

Laryngeal Cancer

In laryngeal cancer, malignant cells form on the voice box or larynx tissues.

Risk Factors for Developing Laryngeal Cancer

Your chances of developing laryngeal cancer increase if these risk factors apply to you:

  • Smoking excessively
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • You have HPV
  • You suffer from GERD
  • Your diet is low in vitamin A and E
  • You’ve had workplace exposure to metal dust, wood, and chemical inhalants like paint fumes and asbestos

Signs and Symptoms of Laryngeal Cancer

The most common symptoms of laryngeal cancer include:

  • Noticing a lump on the neck
  • Hoarseness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Ear pain
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Nose bleeds
  • Persistent headaches
  • Facial pain

Laryngeal cancer symptoms vary, meaning you should see your primary care physician if you start experiencing any of them. Although it may not be laryngeal cancer, it could be another concerning condition that requires treatment.

Treatment for Laryngeal Cancer

Treating laryngeal cancer varies based on where the cancer is on the larynx and what stage it is. Your Suburban Otolaryngology doctor will determine the best method of treatment.

Laryngeal cancer is often treated using surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of approaches. The goal of treatment is to eradicate your cancer while preserving your voice and appearance and preventing your cancer from returning.

Nasopharyngeal Cancer

Cancer cells growing on the nasopharynx cause nasopharyngeal cancer. The nasopharynx is in the throat above the oropharynx and behind the nose. Nasopharyngeal cancer usually starts in squamous cells that line the nasopharynx.

Risk Factors of Nasopharyngeal Cancer

Possible risk factors include:

  • Genetics
  • History of heavy drinking
  • Exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus
  • Increasing age

Signs and Symptoms of Nasopharyngeal Cancer

Some of the signs of nasopharyngeal cancer are:

  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Difficulty hearing
  • Trouble speaking
  • Persistent sore throat
  • Headaches
  • Breathing problems
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Lump in the neck or nose

Treatment for Nasopharyngeal Cancer

Your doctor at Suburban Otolaryngology will consider multiple factors when choosing the best treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer. They may look at tumor size, cancer stage, and if Epstein-Barr antibodies are present.

Treatment will include chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery and may include one or a combination. Radiation is often the primary treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer.

Chemoradiation is also another option. Surgery is usually only necessary if the tumor comes back after chemoradiation.

Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer is a tumor that appears as a mass or nodule on the thyroid gland, found at the front base of the throat. Thyroid cancer occurs when normal thyroid cells undergo genetic changes and reproduce faster than the immune system can control.

Women are three times more likely to develop thyroid cancer than men, and it’s quite common after age 30. Still, it can affect any age group.

There are multiple types of thyroid cancer, with papillary and follicular being the most common and the least aggressive. Other types of thyroid cancer are:

  • Anaplastic thyroid cancer
  • Medullary thyroid cancer
  • Poorly differentiated thyroid cancer

Risk Factors of Thyroid Cancer

In addition to being female, other risk factors for thyroid cancer are:

  • Having a family history of thyroid disease
  • Having a history of goiters
  • Radiation exposure
  • Being overweight
  • Iron deficiency

Signs and Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer

In many cases, thyroid cancer doesn’t have symptoms. What commonly happens is a doctor will discover a nodule during a routine examination or exam performed for another reason.

If you’re exhibiting symptoms, the most common one is a swollen neck. In some people, the thyroid nodule becomes much more prominent and causes issues like:

  • A persistent cough
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Discomfort when moving the neck or head
  • Voice change
  • Shortness of breath

It’s important to note that more than 90 percent of thyroid nodules don’t turn out to be cancerous.

Treatment for Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer treatment is highly successful. Almost 95 percent of patients with this form of cancer live for over five years, and most have an average life span following treatment.

Additionally, patients with advanced thyroid cancer usually do well with modern therapies. Surgery is often used when treating thyroid cancer.

If your Suburban Otolaryngology doctor suspects the tumor has spread to the lymph nodes, they’ll also have them removed during surgery. For the best results, your doctor may combine surgery with other treatments, including thyroid hormone replacement therapy, chemotherapy, radiation, and radioactive iodine treatment.

Advanced Head and Neck Cancer Treatment

At Suburban Otolaryngology, our team has extensive experience and expertise needed to treat cancers of the head and neck. We design a personalized treatment plan for every patient to achieve the best possible outcomes.

Our comprehensive approach is evidence-based and provides advanced diagnosis and treatment options.

Want to learn more about treatment options for head and neck cancers? Request an appointment at Suburban Otolaryngology in Berwyn, IL, to start receiving the treatment you need!


3340 S. Oak Park Ave Suite 204,
Berwyn, IL 60402

Phone: 708-749-3070
Map to Suburban Otolaryngology Location