- What is head and neck cancer?  
- How does cancer arise?
- What causes head and neck cancer?  
- Can cancer of the head and neck be cured?  
- Symptoms of head and neck cancer  
- Referral to a specialist
- Diagnosis of head and neck cancer  
- Stage and grade of cancer  
- Treatment for head and neck cancer  
- Follow-up after treatment  
- Clinical trials


Surgery may be used to remove all or part of the cancer if the tumour is too large to be treated with radiotherapy alone. Occasionally, the doctor may recommend surgery to remove lymph nodes in the neck that may still contain cancer cells after radiotherapy. The lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system, which is part of the body’s natural defence against infection.

Depending on the type of cancer, surgery may be extensive, and skin grafts (using skin taken from another part of your body) may sometimes be needed. Following extensive surgery for cancer of the head and neck, prostheses (false facial parts) may be used to replace parts of the face that have had to be removed.

Surgery specific for cancer of the larynx

Surgery may be necessary to remove the tumour from your larynx if the cancer:

  • Has stopped the vocal cords moving
  • Has affected more than the vocal cords
  • Is a small tumour confined to the larynx which has not responded to radiotherapy
  • Returns some time after radiotherapy.


Depending on the extent of the tumour, either the whole larynx (laryngectomy) or only part of it (partial laryngectomy) will be removed. Laryngectomee is the term used to describe a person who has had a laryngectomy. Following a partial laryngectomy, one vocal cord is left so that you are still able to speak with a reasonable, but hoarse, voice.

Removal of the larynx means that there is no longer a connection between your mouth and lungs. The surgeon makes an opening called a tracheostomy (or stoma) in the lower part of your neck for you to breathe through and speak. The connection between your mouth and stomach is not affected by this, and eventually you will be able to eat and drink normally.

Many people who have a tracheostomy are worried about how it will look, and a lot of supportive help is available. As well as support from partners, relatives and friends, you may benefit from the support of healthcare professionals and self-help groups, particularly The National Association of Laryngectomee Clubs.