Head and neck cancer2021-01-25T15:31:27+10:00

Head and neck cancer

Head and neck cancer refers to those cancers that occur inside the sinuses, nose, mouth and salivary glands down through the throat. Although these cancers are different, they are treated similarly, so are considered as a group.

Alcohol and tobacco consumption are the biggest risk factors for most head and neck cancers.

View Cancer Council Australia information on:

Patient stories

Everyone reacts differently

“My mind immediately jumped to every worst case scenario…”

Take control

“I resisted doing the Google thing. I knew what I would find…”

You're not alone

“I wanted everything back to normal, but everything wasn’t normal…”

(Disclaimer: All patient stories are based on real life experiences as told to us. The stories are portrayed by actors to protect the privacy and confidentiality of our patients.)


What is radiation therapy?

  • Radiation therapy is the use of high energy x-rays (called ionising radiation) to treat cancer.

Managing side effects

We’ve created some short videos to help you understand the radiation therapy process. Be sure to ask you treatment team for more information if you have any questions or concerns.

Radiation therapy (head and neck) planning

A radiation therapy planning session (sometimes called a simulation) is an important part of your treatment. The radiation therapy team plan the position of your body and place marks on your skin for future sessions. This video shows a typical session at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital. Your session may vary depending on your type of cancer, the facility and your treatment needs.

Radiation therapy (head and neck) treatment

This video shows a typical treatment session for radiation therapy to the head or neck at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital. Your treatment may vary depending on your treatment needs.

What is chemotherapy?

  • Chemotherapy is a term for a large number of drugs with different methods of working and different side effects. It is used to improve the chance of cure or to control the growth of cancer cells.

Managing side effects

We’ve created some short videos to help you understand the chemotherapy process. Although these have been filmed at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital you will go through a similar process at other facilities.

Coming for your chemotherapy

There are a number of things you’ll need to know for you first visit for chemotherapy. Your doctor will review any tests and scans and discuss your diagnosis and treatment options with you. Don’t forget to bring your scans and test results. You’ll also need a blood test before each visit. This video shows a typical session at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, but you will go through a similar process at other facilities.

Your chemotherapy treatment

This video shows a typical chemotherapy treatment session at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, but you will go through a similar process at other facilities. You will learn about the process and the safety procedures we use to make sure your treatment is as effective and safe as possible.


Waste products at home

CADD Pumps

If you have a Central Venous Access Device

Sometimes surgery is the most effective approach for a particular type of cancer. Your doctor will discuss this with you as part of your treatment.

Other treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, can be given before, during or after surgery.

Surgery is a medical treatment performed by a surgeon or a surgical oncologist to remove cancer from the body or repair a part of the body affected by cancer. It’s sometimes called an operation.

Cancer Council Australia resources

Targeted therapy uses drugs to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells. The treatment works by selectively targeting particular types of cancer cells while minimising harm to normal, healthy cells.

Targeted therapies can be used for different reasons and may be used instead of, or in combination with chemotherapy. Not all cancers respond to targeted therapies, and some of these therapies are only available in clinical trials.

Cancer Council Queensland resources

Allied health professionals discuss services available to Cancer Care Services patients.


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Speech pathology

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Nutrition and dietetics

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Social work

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Occupational theapy

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Radiation nursing

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Introduction to Gastrostomy Tubes: Making the decision

This video will enable you and your family to make an informed decision about gastrostomy tubes and participate in your treatment plan. It includes information on gastrostomy tubes and how they are inserted. It allso includes a demonstation on how the gastrostomy tube is used to provide nutrition, as well as the experience of some of our patients.


Facing the future is a resource pack for people who have completed treatment for head and neck cancer. It aims to help you by providing information on what to expect now that you have finished treatment, and to give you some tools for being able to get on with life.

As part of your cancer journey you may see one or more of our Allied Health professionals.

Cancer research

Cancer care Services has an active research program through our collaboration with a range of world-class research organisations.

QIMR Berghofer

QIMR Berghofer is one of Australia’s most successful medical research institutes and conducts extensive research on different cancer types.  Metro North HHS and QIMR Berghofer partner on a range of cancer studies through our hospitals and our membership of Brisbane Diamantina Health Partners.

Brisbane Diamantina Health Partners

Brisbane Diamantina Health Partners is an academic health science network. Its members include hospital and health services, primary care, universities and medical research institutes who collectively take local and international research and accelerate its application to new treatments across the spectrum of health care.

Herston Imaging Research Facility (HIRF)

Located at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, HIRF has been purpose-built to facilitate imaging research and clinical trials. Its state of the art clinical scanners and prime location within Australia’s largest hospital precinct position it as a leading global force in clinical imaging research.

Australian Cancer Research Foundation

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation provides news, information and leading opinions on treatment, prevention, diagnosis and cure.

Clinical trials

Clinical trials test new treatments to find better ways to prevent, detect or treat disease. Both healthy people and people with a disease or condition can volunteer to be part of a trial.

Cancer Care Services participate in a range of clinical trials at our hospitals. For information about any of the trials below, ask your doctor or nurse.

For information about clinical trials in general visit the Australian Clinical Trials website or search the Australia and New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry.