What the head and neck cancer team do

Patients with head and neck cancer are referred to the head and neck oncology team for radiotherapy, chemotherapy or immunotherapy. The type of treatment depends on the individual patient’s disease and a plan is made with the patient’s referring ear, nose and throat or mouth surgeon.

Other people who will be involved in the diagnosis and planning of care are radiologists and pathologists. A radiologist is a doctor who is specially trained to interpret diagnostic images such as X-rays, MRI and CT scans. A pathologist is a professional who studies the microscopic structure of tissue and cells.

Treatments for head and neck cancers

For some patients, the aim of treatment is to cure their cancer. In some of these patients, radiotherapy – with or without chemotherapy – will be the main treatment.  Others will have had surgery for their cancer and will require post-operative radiotherapy – with or without chemotherapy – to help prevent the cancer coming back.

You can read more about chemotherapy and radiotherapy on our treatment information pages.

This 360° video by Macmillan can give you an idea of the process of radiotherapy for head and neck cancer.

For some patients, it is not possible to completely get rid of their cancer or cure them of their disease. In this situation, patients are assessed on an individual basis and may be offered some palliative chemotherapy or radiotherapy. The aim of treatment in these circumstances is to reduce symptoms caused by the cancer and potentially prolong life.

Patients may be offered a choice of treatments depending on their individual situation, their overall health and their wishes. Their consultant will discuss all of the options available to them. They may also discuss entering into a clinical trial, if this is appropriate and an available trial is suitable. This Christie is a centre that is actively engaged in research.

In some special circumstances, some patients may meet the NHS criteria to be referred for proton beam therapy. If you meet the NHS England criteria for proton beam therapy referral, your clinical oncologist will speak to you about it.

Follow-up after your head and neck cancer treatment

After patients have completed their treatment, they will usually be followed up by their oncologist initially. Long-term follow-up will be carried out by the referring consultant (usually the doctor who gave the patient their initial diagnosis).

You may also be given questionnaires to complete during appointments. These may be to improve our service, track the side effects of disease and treatments and to ensure we are assessing patients’ overall health.

Last updated: March 2023