Contemporary management of head and neck cancers

Isr Med Assoc J. 2009 May;11(5):296-300.


Head and neck cancer is the sixth most common cancer worldwide. HNCs can originate in the skin or soft tissue, in the upper aerodigestive tracts (oral cavity, oropharynx, hypopharynx, larynx, nasopharynx, paranasal sinuses, salivary glands), or in the thyroid. In each of these sites, tumors vary not only by the primary site but also by pathophysiology, biological behavior, and sensitivity to radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Management should be planned according to the tumor's characteristics, patient factors and expertise of the medical team. The main goals of therapy are ablation of the cancer while minimizing morbidity and preserving function and cosmesis. A multidisciplinary team is needed to achieve these goals. Early-stage HNC (stage I and II) should be managed with a single modality, and advanced tumors (stage III and IV) with multimodality therapy. Treatment should be directed to the primary tumor and the area of its lymphatic drainage--the neck lymph nodes. Evidence of metastases in the neck necessitates comprehensive clearance of regional lymphatic basins. However, even if there is no evidence of lymph nodes metastases, when the risk for positive neck lymph nodes exceeds 15-20% elective neck dissection is indicated. Advances in minimally invasive techniques now enable reliable microscopic and endoscopic procedures that mimic the open approaches. Development of contemporary surgical techniques and reconstructive means will help improve the quality of life of patients and prolong survival.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / therapy
  • Chemotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Laryngeal Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Laryngeal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Laryngeal Neoplasms / therapy
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Neck Dissection
  • Prognosis
  • Quality of Life
  • Radiotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Treatment Outcome