Understanding Cancer

Head and neck cancer

Head and neck cancers mostly grow inside your mouth, nose, throat or sinuses. Sometimes they start in the saliva glands or lymph nodes.

In recent years there has been an increase in head and neck cancers related to the human papilloma virus (HPV). Smoking, chewing tobacco or betel nut, and heavy drinking can also aggravate these cancers and make treatment more difficult.

In more detail

Most head and neck cancers are known as mucosal, which refers to the mucus membranes where they are most commonly found. These membranes are the soft, moist linings of the hollow areas of your head: your mouth, nose, sinuses, larynx – your voice box, and pharynx – your throat. Each area is open to the surrounding air, and the mucus membranes keep the inner cavity surfaces protected.

The lymph nodes and the salivary glands produce the fluid saliva that keeps the mucus membranes moist. These are also vulnerable to adenocarcinoma, a cancer that begins in glands.

Cancers of the brain, eye and thyroid are not grouped with the mucosal variety, nor are cancers of the scalp, skin, muscles and bones of the head.

Head and neck cancers are highly likely to spread to the lymph nodes in the neck, and also to the lungs. More rarely they spread to other parts of the body, including the liver, bone or brain.

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The Patient Pathway

1. First Specialist Appointment

At the first specialist appointment you will meet with your specialist radiation oncologist (RO) to discuss the proposed radiotherapy treatment approach and answer any questions and concerns you may have.

2. Orientation

At the treatment planning appointment a patient care specialist (nurse or radiation therapist) will explain the procedures in more detail and answer any concerns that you might have about ARO or your treatment.

3. Planning

During the days following your orientation and treatment planning appointment our team of experts (physicists, radiation therapist planners and your radiation oncologist) work together to develop the ideal treatment plan for you. This involves a highly sophisticated planning software system and review process to guarantee safe and effective delivery of treatment. Depending on the site and complexity of the treatment, this stage can take up to two weeks.

4. First Day of Treatment

You’ll need to arrive 10-15 minutes before your allocated treatment time so that we can greet you and to give you time to get changed for your treatment.

If you are driving, we recommend you enter Gate 3, 98 Mountain Road and drive up the ramp to the mid level car park. Please walk across the link bridge to Auckland Radiation Oncology (ARO). Please report to the ARO reception desk. See location and parking for more information.

5. During Treatment

Weekly reviews with your radiation oncologist or one of our patient care team will be conducted to monitor any side effects and provide on-going support and advice as required.

6. Last Week of Treatment

An appointment will be scheduled for you to meet with a member of our patient care team to ensure appropriate care is organised after your last treatment visit. This may include regular monitoring of blood results, appointments for dressings and management of side effects.

7. Following Treatment