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Head & Neck Cancer Insights

These cancers can affect vital structures responsible for functions such as breathing, swallowing, speaking, and facial movement. Understanding the nature of head and neck cancer and the available treatment options is crucial for patients with the disease.

Types of head and neck cancers

Head and neck cancer can arise from various types of tumors, each with unique characteristics and challenges. A range of malignancies can develop in various head and neck regions, including the oral cavity, throat, voice box (larynx), nasal cavity, sinuses, salivary glands, thyroid gland, and skin. Each type of head and neck cancer is characterized by its location, behavior, and the tissues it affects. Common subtypes include:

Malignant medulloblastomas

Malignant medulloblastomas are aggressive brain tumors that predominantly affect children. These tumors develop in the cerebellum, the region responsible for coordinating movement and balance. 

Oral cancer

This includes cancers of the lips, tongue, gums, cheeks, and hard or soft palate. Risk factors often include tobacco and alcohol use and exposure to human papillomavirus (HPV).

Pharyngeal cancer

Pharyngeal cancer develops in the pharynx, which includes the nasopharynx, oropharynx, and hypopharynx. Smoking and alcohol consumption are major risk factors.

Laryngeal cancer

Laryngeal cancer affects the voice box (larynx) and is often associated with smoking and alcohol use.

Nasal and sinus cancer

These cancers originate in the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses. Occupational exposures and certain genetic conditions can increase the risk.

Salivary gland cancer

Salivary gland cancers develop in the salivary glands and can occur in various parts of the head and neck. Some cases may be linked to radiation exposure.

Thyroid cancer

Although the thyroid gland is located in the neck, thyroid cancer is distinct from other head and neck cancers. Exposure to radiation, especially during childhood, is a risk factor.

Skin cancer

Skin cancers of the head and neck, such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, can result from excessive sun exposure.

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Head and neck cancer and the impact on facial nerves: A complex challenge

Many head and neck cancers are located in close proximity to the facial nerves, which control facial expressions, sensation, and movement. The impact on facial nerves depends on several factors, including the tumor's size, location, and stage. When tumors invade or compress facial nerves, it can lead to neurological deficits, such as facial weakness, numbness, or paralysis.

Treatment approaches, including surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, aim to eliminate cancerous cells while preserving facial nerve function as much as possible. Advanced surgical techniques and the expertise of multidisciplinary teams, including facial reanimation specialists, help optimize outcomes for individuals facing head and neck cancers that affect their facial nerves. Early detection and tailored treatment plans are crucial in managing these complex cases and improving patients' quality of life.

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Facial reanimation after head and neck cancer

Timely referral to a facial reanimation specialist is crucial for evaluating the extent of facial nerve involvement and exploring potential avenues for recovery. Collaborative care and individualized treatment plans are essential when addressing facial weakness associated with meningiomas, ensuring the best possible outcomes for affected individuals.

For instance, certain brain tumors, like malignant medulloblastomas and pilocytic astrocytomas, can lead to facial weakness when their removal impacts the origin of the facial nerve or its blood supply. Similarly, meningiomas, which are typically benign brain tumors, can also affect facial nerve function. In such cases, timely referral to a facial reanimation specialist is crucial for potential recovery.

Facial paralysis or weakness following head or neck cancer surgery

Head and neck cancer surgeries are vital for curing patients, but they can sometimes lead to facial weakness when portions or the entire facial nerve must be removed to ensure the highest chance of cure. In such cases, a collaborative approach between head and neck cancer surgeons and facial reanimation specialists is essential. Treatment options for facial weakness include cable grafting, re-innervation procedures, and introducing static support during the cancer operation. This ensures patients don't experience complete flaccid facial paralysis post-surgery. Each patient's care plan is tailored to their unique circumstances and the need for future additional treatments like radiation or chemotherapy.

Why choose the Hadcock Center for Facial Plastic Surgery?

Dr. Tessa Hadlock stands out as a preeminent leader in the field. With over two decades of experience, Dr. Hadlock is a distinguished clinician-scientist, a Professor of Otology and Laryngology at Harvard Medical School, and the visionary founder of the Hadlock Center for Facial Plastic Surgery. Her groundbreaking research has propelled the understanding and treatment of facial nerve disorders, earning her recognition as one of the few facial plastic and reconstructive surgeons with National Institutes of Health funding. 

Dr. Hadlock's extensive body of work, encompassing clinical outcomes studies and influential tools for assessing reanimation procedures, is widely referenced in international literature. Her dedication to improving patients' lives through innovation, mentorship, and personalized care makes her the top choice for those seeking expert facial nerve care. With Dr. Hadlock's expertise and the support of her multidisciplinary team, patients receive the highest standard of compassionate and effective treatment, ensuring the best possible outcomes for their facial nerve conditions.

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