Types of Head and Neck Cancer

There are several different types of head and neck cancer, categorized according to the specific tissue or organ where the cancer originates—from cancerous lesions on the lower lip to paranasal sinus tumors deep within the skull. Click on one of the links below for detailed information on each type of cancer, including staging and treatment guidelines.

Tumors of the Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinuses

The nasal cavity is the passageway just behind the nose. When we breathe through our nose, air passes through the nasal cavity en route to the pharynx and tracheobronchial tree, which leads into the lungs. The paranasal sinuses are air-filled cavities around the nose.

Nasopharyngeal Cancer

The nasopharynx is the upper part of the throat behind the nose—the nostrils lead into it, and openings on the sides of the nasopharynx connect to the ears.

Cancers of the Oral Cavity

The oral cavity includes all the various parts of the mouth: the lips; the lining inside the lips and cheeks (the buccal mucosa); the bottom of the mouth; the front of the tongue; the front part of the top of the mouth (the hard palate); the gums; and the area behind the wisdom teeth (the retromolar trigone).

Tumors of the Oropharynx

The oropharnyx is the part of the throat at the back of the mouth (the throat is technically known as the pharynx). It's a 5 inch, hollow tube that extends all the way from the nose down to the top of the trachea (the windpipe that leads to the lungs). Parts of the oropharnyx include the back of the tongue, the soft palate (the back part of the roof of the mouth), the tonsils and the part of the throat behind the mouth.

Hypopharyngeal Tumors

The hypopharynx is the bottom part of the pharynx, or throat. The pharynx is a 5-inch hollow tube that extends from the nose, down the neck to the esophagus. Both air and food pass through the pharynx. The air continues on through the trachea to the bronchi and lungs. Food continues on to the esophagus and digestive system.

Laryngeal Cancer

The larynx is more commonly known as the "voicebox." It's a 2 inch, tube-shaped organ in the neck. Air passes through the larynx on its way into or out of the lungs, and when we talk the vocal cords inside of the larynx tighten up and vibrate, producing sound.

Salivary Gland Cancer

Salivary glands are located throughout the oral cavity. They are responsible for making saliva, a substance that keeps the mouth moist and aids in digestion.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 15 Aug 1999

Last Modified: 07 Dec 2011