Head and neck cancers include tumors of the oral cavity, larynx, rinopharynx, hypopharynx, oropharynx, thyroid, and parotid. In 2015, there was an estimate of about 9,200 new diagnoses of cancer of the head and neck, of which one fourth in women, and 3% of all new cancer diagnosis in the general population (I numeri del cancro in Italia 2015, AIOM).
In the majority of cases (over 90%), these are squamous cell carcinomas developing from the epithelial tissue covering the mucosa of the district. Less frequent tumors originate from other tissues: adenocarcinomas of the salivary glands and thyroid, melanomas from melanin-producing cells, lymphoid tissue lymphomas, etc.
The most common symptoms include burning or pain in the mouth, associated with ulcerations or neoformations, occasionally bloody, and difficult to heal. Other common symptoms are a persistent sore throat, pain in the ear, blood in the sputum, difficulty chewing, swallowing or breathing, numbness of the tongue, persistent painless swelling of the neck.
Radiotherapy is one of the main therapeutic treatments of head and neck cancer. Radiotherapy alone is frequently indicated as treatment of choice, for example in rhynopharingeal tumors, initial stage larynx tumors (as non-invasive alternative to surgery) and in locally-advanced stages of the disease. It is also indicated, in some cases, with palliative and symptomatic purposes and doses, to reduce symptoms or consequences of the disease’s local progression that can significantly affect patient’s quality of life (voice, speech, swallowing, taste, and breathing).
Thanks to new techniques such as intensity-modulated (IMRT) and digital image-guided radiation therapy, today the side effects due to impairment of healthy organs located in the vicinity of the tumor can be minimized. Also, for patients with local recurrence of the disease and already subjected to radiotherapy, stereotactic radiosurgery can represent a valid alternative. These treatments are performed at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at San Pietro FBF.
(Source: AIOM e AIRTUM 2015)