Head and neck cancer is a relatively uncommon type of cancer - however with around 12,000 new cases diagnosed in the UK each year it is a growing area for healthcare fieldwork research. There are more than 30 areas within the head and neck where cancer can develop, including the mouth and lips, voice box (larynx), throat (pharynx), salivary glands, nose and sinuses and the area at the back of the nose and mouth (nasopharynx).
The symptoms mostly depend on which area of the head and neck are affected, but generally speaking symptoms can include:
- An ulcer in the mouth that doesn’t heal within a few weeks
- Red or white patches in the mouth that don’t go away within a few weeks
- Difficulty swallowing or pain when chewing or swallowing
- Changes to your voice (for example, hoarseness)
- A constant sore throat and earache on one side
- A swelling or lump in the face mouth or neck
Other less common symptoms include a loose tooth, a blocked nose or nosebleeds and pain or numbness in the face or upper jaw.
Many cancers of the head and neck can be cured, especially if they are found early. Once diagnosed, the treatment plan will vary for each individual patient depending on factors such as the exact location of the tumour and the stage of the cancer, as well as the person’s age and general health. Different options can include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy or a combination of treatments.
Although eliminating the cancer is the primary goal, preserving the function of the nearby nerves, organs and tissues is also very important. Therefore, when planning treatment of head and neck cancer doctors should also consider how it might affect a person’s quality of life, such as how a person feels, looks, talks, eats and breathes.
Who treats it
The aim of the head and neck medical team is to try and cure or control the cancer whilst minimising any side effects which could cause loss of function or disfigurement. As such, head and neck cancer is treated by a multidisciplinary team, ranging from ENT specialists and oncologists to speech and language therapists and psychologists. This team will likely include but not be limited to:
ENT specialists or otorhinolaryngologists are surgical specialists who diagnose, evaluate and manage a wide range of diseases of the head and neck across all age ranges. They will help to diagnose and manage conditions, put together a treatment plan and monitor the ongoing treatment together with the oncology team.
An oncologist is a doctor who treats cancer using chemotherapy, radiotherapy, targeted therapy or other medications. Oncologists manage a patient’s care and treatment once they have been diagnosed and their role includes explaining the diagnosis, discussing relevant treatments, delivering compassionate care and helping to manage pain.
Radiologists specialise in the treatment of cancers by radiation and will work together with the oncologists to decide on a suitable treatment plan.
Reconstructive or plastic surgeons will work to repair any damage done by cancer treatment, including maxillofacial prosthodontists who specialise in restorative surgery in the head and neck areas.
A team of specialist nurses including oncology, ENT and surgical nurses will also be part of the team and will work together with the doctors to deliver cre and provide specialist support to the patient.
6.Speech and language therapists
Speech and language therapists help patients to regain their speaking, swallowing and oral motor skills after cancer treatment.
A person’s psychological state must also be considered during the treatment of head and neck cancer, especially when their appearance is altered as a result of their treatment. In these cases, psychologists will help patients cope with anxiety, depression and other more complex needs.
Who can we access
Here at GKA we have conducted over 15 specialist healthcare fieldwork research projects on this therapy area, including the recruitment of oncologists, nurses, psychologists and patients. We currently have 800 oncologists, 170 oncology nurses, 80 plastic surgeons, 17 oral and maxillofacial surgery specialists and 10 speech and language therapists on our panel - so if you are looking to conduct a healthcare fieldwork research study in head and neck cancer, you can trust that GKA will find the right participants.
If you would like to discover more about how we can help and the type of people we can reach, download our panel book to find out more.