Oral, Head & Neck Cancer

About Oral, Head And Neck Cancers

Oral, head and neck cancers, which include cancers of the mouth, nose, sinuses, salivary glands, throat and lymph nodes in the neck, account for approximately 3 percent of all malignancies in the United States. Most begin in the moist tissues that line the mouth, nose and throat. Symptoms may include a lump or sore that does not heal, a sore throat that does not go away, trouble swallowing or a change or hoarseness in the voice.

Since many people are not familiar with the signs and symptoms of these cancers, about 50 percent of these cases are found in late stages. Overall incidence began decreasing 30 years ago and stabilized in 2003, whereas overall mortality rates have steadily declined. Notably, the incidence of head and neck cancer in African Americans has declined over the past two decades and is now lower than that in caucasians.

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The clinician should review the social, familial, and medical history and should document risk behaviors (tobacco and alcohol usage), a history of head and neck radiotherapy, familial history of head and neck cancer, and a personal history of cancer. Patients over 40 years of age should be considered at a higher risk for oral cancer.


Most oral, head and neck cancers can be prevented. At least 75 percent of these diseases are caused by alcohol and tobacco, which are the two most important risk factors. Poor oral hygiene and missing teeth are risk factors for cancers of the oral cavity, and men are affected about twice as more as women with oral cancer. However, there is also a substantial focus on educating younger people. The Oral Cancer Foundation reports that the quickest growing segment of the oral cancer population is young, healthy, non-smokers due to the connection to the human papillomavirus (HPV). This means those with HPV need to know their risks and the warning signs for the disease.


Signs of oral, head and neck cancer may include a mouth sore that doesn’t heal, persistent sore throat or coughing, lumps or patches in the mouth, trouble or pain while swallowing or chewing, changes in voice, numb feeling in the mouth or lips, persistent ear ache on one side, or swelling or a lump in the mouth or neck. Symptoms also may affect specific areas of the head and neck and may include oral cavities, pharynx, larynx, paranasal sinuses and nasal cavities, and the salivary glands. It is important to check with your doctor or dentist if you experience any of these symptoms.

Advanced Treatment

Gamma Knife Icon (GKI) is an innovative, noninvasive radiosurgery technology used for treating primary brain tumors and metastatic head and neck cancer when tumors have spread to the brain. The first of its kind in the Gulf South, GKI treats only the parts of the brain that need it, sparing healthy tissue and enhancing quality of life. There are no incisions with this treatment and, in most cases, little to no side effects. To learn more about the Gamma Knife Icon, click here.

Dental Services

Some cancer patients, typically those diagnosed with cancer of the head and neck, require the extraction of dental fillings before radiation therapy to reduce the risk of bone damage following treatment. Patients requiring dental services, are evaluated by an oncologic dentist and extractions occur before treatment in order to reduce delays in care, and late term effects from the treatments. Extractions, when needed, are coordinated through the LSU school of Oral Surgery, who provides Mary Bird Perkins with a discounted rate for their oral surgery services for underinsured or uninsured patients.

Disease Site Team

Disease site teams, or multidisciplinary care teams, are specialists from each diagnostic, treatment and supportive care discipline working together in the same facility where state-of-the-art cancer treatment is given, and relevant research is conducted.

Patient Stories


New York-native Joe Ferrer was going about his normal daily shaving routine in July 2015 when he noticed a lump on his throat that made him pause. As a spinal cancer survivor, he knew that listening to his gut instinct about his health was important in detecting his previous disease early, so he brought the lump to his doctor’s attention the same day he found it.

Head and Neck

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that involve human beings in order to test new ways to prevent, detect, diagnose or treat diseases. A drug must be part of a clinical trial before the FDA will approve it to be put on the market. Oncology clinical trials are conducted in order to test new drugs or a new combination of drug treatments, new surgery and radiation therapies and new medical devices.

Every cancer center patient is evaluated for participation in a clinical trial. Those who meet the criteria to participate in clinical research receive a standard of care treatment, but with the added benefit of a trial that may enhance their outcomes.

If interested in volunteering to participate in a clinical research trial, or if you have concerns about the conduct of clinical research, please contact the Clinical Research office at (225) 215-1353, or by email at clinicalresearch@marybird.com.

Additional Support

  • American Cancer Society: The American Cancer Society website contains information on many aspects of cancer care geared toward patients and caregivers.
  • National Cancer Institute: National Cancer Institute is Federal program that is part of the National Institutes of Health. It has resources and information for patients and caregivers which is based on scientific research.
  • Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge: Cancer Services empowers cancer patients and their families by serving the financial, physical and emotional needs that arise during the cancer journey – always free of charge.
  • Oral Cancer Foundation: The Oral Cancer Foundation provides specific resources for oral cancer patients.