For Patients

Q?What is Head & Neck Cancer?

Head and neck cancers are malignant growths that involve structures in the head and neck area. Cancers can form in the tongue, upper and lower jaw bones, lips, upper throat (oropharynx), voice box (larynx), and swallowing tube (hypopharynx and esophagus). Often these cancers are related to smoking, chewing tobacco, and alcohol use. However one of that fastest growing groups of patients with upper throat (oropharynx) cancers are otherwise healthy people with no major tobacco or alcohol use history. Current theories show that the human papilloma virus (HPV) can cause mutations that lead to cancers in these areas.

Head and neck cancers often present with painful masses or lumps in the mouth, throat, or neck. Some people who have trouble swallowing or pain on swallowing may have a cancer in their head and neck region. If you have any of these symptoms tell your family doctor. They will examine your mouth, upper throat and neck. If there are any concerns they should then refer you to a Head & Neck Surgeon for a detailed examination and further testing. If you do have a Head & Neck Cancer surgery is often part of your treatment. If you require surgery for a Head & Neck Cancer it is important that you are treated by an experienced surgical team who work in a health care facility / hospital where the latest advanced techniques are being used.

Q?What is Thyroid Cancer?

Thyroid cancer is a malignant (cancer) growth involving the tissues of the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland sits in the base of the neck and has two lobes (right and left). Cancers can arise in any growth within the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate important functions in your body. It is important to be aware of thyroid diseases and to protect your thyroid health.

Thyroid cancer is currently on the rise in North America for reasons that are currently unclear. Thyroid cancers often present as neck nodules or lumps. Sometimes the sudden onset of voice changes or trouble swallowing are also related to thyroid cancer. People with a family history of thyroid cancer or disease, known thyroid disease or goiter are at a higher risk of developing thyroid cancer. If you have a concern that you might have a thyroid cancer please tell your family doctor. They will examine your head and neck, feel for lumps and potentially refer you on for an ultrasound of the neck. Your doctor may request that you have a needle biopsy of a thyroid lump (tissue sampling) to make sure that a thyroid nodule or lump is not a cancer. If you are found to have a thyroid cancer, surgery is almost always part of your treatment. If you require thyroid surgery it is important that your surgery is performed by a surgeon experienced in this type of surgery and who does an adequate number of these procedures per year.

Q?What is a Head & Neck Surgeon?

A Head & Neck Surgeon is a physician who following medical school has completed a 5-year residency (surgical training program) in Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery or General Surgery followed by at least a year of extra dedicated training in Head & Neck Cancer surgery.

Q?What types of surgeries do Head & Neck Surgeons perform?

Head & Neck Surgeons perform a wide variety of surgeries such as removing cancer and non cancerous growths from the head & neck region. These surgeons are skilled in removing growths of the tongue, jaw bones, upper throat, voice box, neck, thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, and salivary (spit) glands. Some head & neck surgeons who have gained extra training in reconstructive head & neck surgery are able to rebuild defects in the tongue, jaw bones, upper throat, voice box and neck with tissue from the arms, legs, hip and/or back to restore speaking and swallowing function and form to these areas after surgery.

Q?Where can I find more information on Head & Neck Cancer as well as Thyroid Cancer?

Head & Neck Cancers:

Oral Cavity (Mouth) Cancer Overview:

Thyroid Cancer Overview:

Thyroid Cancer Treatment:

Q?Do the medical and surgical services provided by Head & Neck Surgeons have any increased cost to the patient?

No, all services provided by a Head & Neck Surgeon are covered by Provincial and/or Territorial Health Plans. Any patient with an up to date Canadian provincial / territorial health care plan have full access to all services provided by head & neck surgeons at no added cost.

Q?How do I get referred to a Head & Neck Surgeon?

Please ask your Primary Care Physician (Family Doctor) to send a completed referral request form to a qualified Head & Neck surgeon. Your Primary Care Physician may have an established referral relationship that they work with or they can access any of the Head & Neck Surgeons that are within their local area.