Head and Neck Cancer Unit

Head and Neck Cancer Unit

The Head and Neck Cancer Unit of IOB Institute of Oncology attends to patients diagnosed with tumors that affect the upper part of the digestive and respiratory systems. Among these, those that stand out, due to their higher frequency, are the ones that affect the larynx and the cavity inside the mouth.

Patients who come into this unit have often been previously diagnosed, but they may also be people who suspect they may be suffering from head and neck cancer and require a first diagnosis.

Also, just as in other units of IOB, the Head and Neck Cancer Unit offers a service of second opinion for patients that are under oncological treatment at other centers.

Patients treated in the Head and Neck Cancer Unit are attended to by a multidisciplinary team made up of oncologists, radiotherapists, radiologists, surgeons, anatomical pathologists and nursing staff specialized in cancer.

Furthermore, IOB offers psychological and psychiatric attention for patients who need it, as well as specialist in nutrition and complementary medicine such as acupuncture and hypnosis for the treatment of anxiety and pain.

This multidisciplinary team makes it easier for patients to be able to undergo all the tests and receive all the treatments that they need in a coordinated manner in the same location and in the shortest amount of time, without the need to travel to different centers and separately manage visits to different specialists.

Early detection

The earlier the cancer is detected, the greater the probability of being able to achieve successful treatment and minimum long-term sequelae.

Most of the head and neck cases of cancer, cause symptoms in their initial phases.

Given that these symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer, many patients pay no attention to them.

However, having a consultation with an otorhinolaryngologist (an Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat specialist) in time is key to obtaining early detection, and thereby increasing the probability of being cured.

In particular, it is advisable to urgently see a specialist if you have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck that last more than two weeks and do not have any apparent cause, since many head and neck cancers invade these nodes before spreading to other organs.
  • Voice changes that last more than two weeks and do not have any apparent cause, since this could be the first symptom of laryngeal cancer.
  • Inflammation or sores within the mouth that lasts more than ten days, even if it does not bother the patient.
  • The appearance of blood in the saliva or sputum that lasts for several consecutive days.
  • Discomfort when swallowing solid foods.
  • Persistent pain in the ears, especially when swallowing, since this could be a symptom of an infection or a tumor in the throat.

Head and neck cancer can affect anyone, so these recommendations for early detection apply to the entire population.

However, it is advisable that smokers and ex-smokers, as well as those who regularly drink alcohol, are particularly vigilant since tobacco and alcohol are the two main risk factors for this type of tumors.

Quick diagnosis

The diagnosis of head and neck cancer, which in most cases is made by an otorhinolaryngologist, is usually based on a visual examination of the affected area and a biopsy to remove a tissue sample.

The analysis of the tissue in the laboratory allows the definitive confirmation or ruling out of the cancer diagnosis.

In those cases, in which the diagnosis is confirmed, a detailed study of the cells in the laboratory allows us to specify the type of cancer we are talking of in order to decide on the most adequate treatment for each patient.

A complete blood test, including analysis for tumor markers, as well as an imaging study will offer additional information to assess whether the cancer is localized in its place of origin or has spread to other organs.

IOB’s quick diagnostic circuit has allowed us to reduce the timeframe to as little as one week for the average time between the first consultation of a patient diagnosed with head and neck cancer, or suspected of suffering head and neck cancer, and the start of treatment.

Personalized treatment

Head and neck cancer treatment depends on the localization of the tumor and the degree of extension of the disease at the moment of diagnosis.

A multidisciplinary team made up of specialists in oncological medicine, oncological radiotherapy, surgery and otorhinolaryngology will decide the individualized treatment strategy for each patient.

The individualization of the treatment is key to achieving the maximum therapeutic efficacy while preserving the patient’s quality of life.

The treatment decision must take into account, for example, the need to preserve the patient’s larynx whenever it is possible.

The initial treatment is usually based on surgery, radiotherapy or a combination of these two.

These treatment options act on the cancer locally and are targeted at eliminating the tumor or reducing its size.

Chemotherapy, which eliminates cancerous cells throughout the organism, is frequently used as an additional treatment.

Once the treatment is completed, the patient’s evolution is closely monitored, especially over the first three years.

Medical check-ups consist of full blood tests with checks for tumor markers every three months and imaging tests every six months.

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