Understanding head & neck cancers

Many different cancers can occur in the head and neck area. This area is made up of many different parts such as organs, tissues, skin, bones and glands. Head and neck cancers can develop in the:

  • mouth and lips
  • throat and voice box
  • nose
  • sinuses
  • thyroid and saliva glands.

Most head and neck cancers start in the lining (called squamous epithelium) that covers the inside of the mouth, nose, throat or voice box. These cancers start in the squamous cell(s) of the epithelium (lining) and are called ‘squamous cell carcinomas’.

Cancer of the mouth can affect any of the following:

  • lips
  • gums
  • tongue
  • buccal mucosa (lining of the mouth)
  • hard palate (roof of your mouth).

Cancer of the throat can affect any of the following:

  • oropharynx area (tonsils, back (base) of tongue and/or soft palate at back of mouth)
  • glottis (voice box)
  • supraglottis (just above the voice box)
  • hypopharynx (just behind the voice box).

Cancer of the nose can affect any of the following:

  • sinuses (air spaces in the bones around the nose area of the face)
  • the space behind your nose
  • the nasopharynx.

Our head and neck experts also successfully treat and manage cancers that arise in:

  • the parotid glands (major saliva glands on each side of the face)
  • submandibular salivary glands (found beneath each side of the lower jaw)
  • thyroid gland.

Focusing on you

Placing you at the centre of our work, your specialist will work with you to find out what head and neck cancer you have, where it started and how far it has progressed.

The signs and symptoms of head and neck cancer will depend on where the cancer is. Each cancer will have a specific set of symptoms and often they are caused by other health concerns.

If you notice any of the following signs, please visit your GP (General Practitioner or local family doctor) for a head and neck check-up:

  • ongoing sore throat
  • sore or ulcer inside the mouth that won’t go away or bleeds easily
  • lump or swelling in the mouth, neck or face
  • on-going sinus infections
  • red or white patches inside the mouth
  • difficulty chewing food or swallowing
  • changes in the voice
  • a lot of unexplained nosebleeds or constant blocked nose
  • change in sense of smell
  • change in eyesight
  • any pain in the head and neck area.

Enhancing your care

At Peter Mac, we provide the most up-to-date diagnostics (tests) and treatment for head and neck cancers.

Our team of head and neck cancer experts will come together and work with you to assess your condition and plan and deliver the most effective treatment. Members of your team can include the following experts:

  • head and neck cancer surgeons
  • radiation therapy doctors
  • chemotherapy doctors
  • dental oncologist (dentist specialising in cancer care)
  • clinical nurse specialist
  • speech therapist
  • dietitian
  • physiotherapist
  • occupational therapist
  • psychologist or counsellor.

Your care plan will be custom-made to treat your specific head and neck cancer and the needs most important to you.


We know how hard cancer and treatment can be. Your lifestyle and that of your loved one's will be disrupted and changed. During this time, it is common to struggle with ongoing concerns about cancer and therapy. There are many expert groups available to provide more information and support you through this time, including:


At Peter Mac, we focus on all aspects of your health and wellbeing. Our head and neck experts will help support and guide you to the best information and managed care.

Our specialist nurses can refer you to our:


For more information about head and neck cancers, their treatment and support for patients and families, download copies of the following resources: 


Your needs come first, so we offer expert care across a number of different Head & Neck diseases including:

Salivary gland tumours
Thyroid and parathyroid tumours
Skull Base Tumours
Oral cavity (Mouth)
Oropharynx (Tonsil, Base of Tongue, Soft Palate)
Hypopharynx and Cervical Oesophagus
Nasal Cavity and Sinuses
Sarcomas of the Head and Heck
Unknown Primary Cancer of the Head and Neck