Northside Hospital - Head and Neck Cancer



For more information, call
(404) 531-4444.

Alpharetta Cancer Center
3400 Old Milton Parkway
Bldg. B
Alpharetta, GA 30005
Phone: (770) 751-0521
Fax: (678) 566-1611

Atlanta Cancer Center
1000 Johnson Ferry Road
Atlanta, GA 30342
Phone: (404) 851-8850
Fax: (404) 851-6010

Cherokee Cancer Center
1200 Oakside Drive
Canton, GA 30114
Phone: (770) 479-1761
Fax: (770) 720-4480

Forsyth Cancer Center
1100 Northside Forsyth Dr.,
Suite 140
Cumming, GA 30041
Phone: (770) 292-7000
Fax: (770) 292-7002 

Head and Neck Cancer

Head and neck cancers commonly arise from mucosal layering inside the mouth, upper airways, and throat (less commonly arising from salivary gland tissue). Symptoms include difficulty or pain swallowing, congestion, having an enlarging neck lymph node, or even inner ear pain.

Screening & Diagnostics

Screening and diagnosis of head and neck cancer usually involves a full evaluation by an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist. Procedures may include PET/CT, a possible scope and biopsy. Once results are received and a malignancy is confirmed, the cancer is staged (based on the size, location and extent of the tumor). This information is important in guiding the oncology team in their treatment recommendations and prognosis.


Treatment for head and neck cancers may include a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Radiation with or without chemotherapy may be used in conjunction with surgery in those patients at highest risk for a recurrence of cancer. Because surgery can sometimes change the patient’s ability to chew, swallow or talk, radiation and/or chemotherapy may be used alone to preserve organs and swallowing function.

Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy uses high energy X-rays or radiation to kill cancer cells. The course of treatment consists of approximately 6-7 weeks of daily treatment. Each session is about 20-30 minutes. The treatment plan is highly complex, using 3-D planning or intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT).

A customized immobilization mask is constructed for each patient to ensure accurate daily set-up before each fraction of treatment. This also minimizes the side effects while not compromising the effectiveness of eradicating tumor cells. Side effects can include fatigue, loss of taste, sensation of a dry mouth, sore throat, reddening and/or peeling of the skin, as well as decreased blood counts (when chemotherapy is involved). These side effects, which can be experienced while receiving treatment and last up to 3-6 months long-term side effects, can include persistent difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, persistent alterations with taste. The degree of how severe each side effect may be could also depend on the field size, location of target, and whether or not one is receiving concurrent chemotherapy. It will be important to clarify this with your radiation oncologist.

Because patients experience decreased salivary function, it’s important to have regular check-ups with your dentist to avoid bacteria build-up that can lead to enamel/bone erosion. Patients also will require physical therapy and swallow evaluations, in addition to nutritional counseling. In the event that you require both radiation and chemotherapy concurrently, the radiation side effects can be enhanced. If eating becomes too challenging, whether due to pain, or a lack of appetite and/or taste, a feeding tube may be required to ensure you’re getting the calories you need to sustain therapy.

After completing treatment, radiation can continue to kill cancer cells for up to three weeks. Afterwards, the healing process begins. Inflammation can be seen in PET/CT scans and on physical exam (i.e., scoping) even at 8-12 weeks, so new baseline scans will not be performed until that time to reduce the risk of a “false positive” test. It is important to continue visiting your ENT physician for additional surveillance with endoscopy procedures, as well as follow-up with your oncologists.

Learn more about radiation therapy at Northside.

Chemotherapy involves the use of medicine to treat cancer. More than half of all people diagnosed with cancer receive chemotherapy. The thought of having chemotherapy may be frightening, but for millions of people, this approach is effective and gets them back to enjoying full, productive lives. Many side effects once associated with chemotherapy can now be prevented or controlled, allowing people to go on with their normal activities during treatment. Chemotherapy may be administered intravenously, injected into a body cavity, or delivered orally in the form of a pill.

At Northside's Infusion Centers, chemotherapy is dispensed on an outpatient basis by registered nurses who are certified in chemotherapy administration. These nurses also provide ongoing physical assessments.

Clinical Trials
Clinical trials are studies that involve people and are a critical part of oncology research. These studies test new ways to prevent, detect, diagnose, or treat cancer. Northside's Research Program is one of the largest community-based oncology/hematology programs in the nation. It is one of only a handful of programs that offers Phase I-IV clinical research. People who take part in cancer clinical trials have an opportunity to contribute to scientists’ knowledge about cancer and to help in the development of improved cancer treatments. They also receive state-of-the-art care from cancer experts. Learn more about Clinical Trials at Northside.


Northside Hospital Atlanta

1000 Johnson Ferry Road NE
Atlanta, GA 30342
(404) 851-8000

Northside Hospital Cherokee

450 Northside Cherokee Blvd.
Canton, GA 30115
(770) 224-1000

Northside Hospital Duluth

3620 Howell Ferry Road
Duluth, GA 30096
(678) 312-6800

Northside Hospital Forsyth

1200 Northside Forsyth Drive
Cumming, GA 30041
(770) 844-3200

Northside Hospital Gwinnett

1000 Medical Center Blvd.
Lawrenceville, GA 30046
(678) 312-1000

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