About 90% of head and neck cancers are of a type called squamous cell carcinoma. These start in the cells that form the lining of the mouth, nose, throat or ear, or the surface layer covering the tongue. There are many different areas that cancer can occur in the tissue and organs of the head and neck including: 

Cancer of the Nose and Paranasal Sinuses

Cancer of the nose can develop in the nostrils or the lining the nose.

The paranasal sinuses include the bones of the face and related structures. The sinuses are comprised of air spaces. Cancer can develop in the lining of the sinuses. Please follow the link for more information on cancer of the Paranasal Sinus.


The highest part of the throat which lies behind the nose is called the nasopharynx. Cancer can develop here. please follow the link for more information on cancer of the Nasopharynx

Cancer of the Ear

Cancer of the ear canal is a rare cancer but can present in patients with long standing ear symptoms.

Cancer of the Salivary Glands

The salivary glands make saliva (spit) and empty it into the mouth through openings called ducts. This keeps the mouth moist and helps food to slide down the gullet, into the stomach. Saliva makes food moist, which helps with chewing and swallowing. It helps with food digestion. It also cleans the mouth and contains antibodies that can kill germs.

Salivary gland cancer is a rare disease in which cancer cells form in the tissues of the salivary glands. It may cause symptoms including:

  • A lump in the ear, cheek, jaw, lip, or inside the mouth  

Please follow the link for more information on cancer of the Salivary Glands.

Cancer of the Voice Box (Larynx)

As we breathe in air through the nose and mouth, it is warmed and moistened, and then passes through the larynx and down the windpipe to the lungs. Cancer of the larynx is usually a type of squamous cell carcinoma. This means the thin flat cells that line the voice box have become cancerous.

Please follow the link for more information voice box cancer.

Cancer of the Thyroid Gland

Thyroid cancer according to Macmillan Cancer Support (2011) has 1,900 cases diagnosed each year in the UK. There are four common types of thyroid cancer: Papillary, Follicular, Medullary and Anaplastic.

Please follow the link for more information on thyroid gland cancer.

Cancers of the Oral Cavity (including lips and mouth)

The oral cavity includes the lips and the mouth. Cancer can occur in the tongue, the roof of the mouth (the hard palate), the floor of the mouth (under the tongue), the gums, and the inner lining of the lips and cheeks (sometimes referred to as the buccal mucosa).  For more information on oral cavity cancer, please follow this link


Oropharyngeal cancer 

This develops in the oropharynx, the part of the throat that is directly behind the mouth. It includes the soft part of the roof of the mouth (the soft palate), the base of the tongue (the part that can't be seen), the side walls of the throat (where the tonsils are found) and the back wall of the throat (also called the posterior pharyngeal wall). For more information on oropharygeal cancer, please follow this link.

Other Types

Head and neck cancers can also develop from other types of cells:

  • Lymphomas develop from the cells of the lymphatic system.
  • Adenocarcinomas develop from cells that form the lining of glands in the body.
  • Sarcomas develop from the cells which make up muscles, cartilage or blood vessels.
  • Melanomas start from cells called melanocytes, which give colour to the eyes and skin.