Frequently Asked Questions

What is head and neck cancer?

Head and neck cancers are malignant growths that involve structures in the head and neck area. Cancers can form in the tongue, upper and lower jaw bones, lips, upper throat (oropharynx), voice box (larynx) and swallowing tube (hypopharynx and esophagus). Often, these cancers are related to smoking, chewing tobacco, and alcohol use. However, one of the fastest growing groups of patients with upper throat (oropharynx) cancers are otherwise healthy people with no major tobacco or alcohol use history. Current research indicates that the human papilloma virus (HPV) can cause mutations that lead to cancers in these areas. Head and neck cancers often present with painful masses or lumps in the mouth, throat or neck. Some people who have trouble swallowing, or pain on swallowing, may have a cancer in their head and neck region. If you have any of these symptoms, tell your family doctor. They will examine your mouth, upper throat and neck. If there are any concerns, they should then refer you on to a Head and Neck Surgeon for a detailed examination and further testing. If you do have a head and neck cancer, surgery is often part of your treatment. If you require surgery for a head and neck cancer, it is important that you are treated by an experienced surgery team who work in a health care facility/hospital where the latest advanced techniques are being used.

What is thyroid cancer?

Thyroid cancer is a malignant (cancer) growth involving the tissues of the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland sits in the base of the neck and has two lobes (right and left). Cancers can arise in any growth within the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate important functions in your body. It is important to be aware of thyroid diseases and to protect your thyroid health. Thyroid cancer is currently on the rise in North America for reasons that are not clear at the current time. Thyroid cancers often present as neck nodules or lumps. Sometimes, sudden onset of voice changes or trouble swallowing is related to thyroid cancer. People with a family history of thyroid cancer or disease, known thyroid disease or goiter are at a higher risk of developing thyroid cancer. If you have a concern that you might have a thyroid cancer, please tell your family doctor. They will examine your head and neck, feel for lumps and, potentially, refer you on for an ultrasound of the neck. Your doctor may request that you have a needle biopsy of a thyroid lump (tissue sampling) to make sure that a thyroid nodule or lump is not a cancer. If you are found to have a thyroid cancer, surgery is almost always part of your treatment. If you require thyroid surgery, it is important that your surgery is performed by a surgeon experienced in this type of surgery and who does an adequate number of these procedures per year.

What is a Head and Neck Surgeon?

A Head and Neck Surgeon is a physician who, following medical school, has completed a five-year residency (surgical training program) in Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery, followed by at least a year of extra dedicated training in Head and Neck Cancer Surgery.

What types of surgeries do Head and Neck Surgeons perform?

As the leader of a surgical team that includes anaesthetists, residents, nurses and other health professionals, Head and Neck Surgeons perform a wide variety of surgeries from removing cancerous and non-cancerous growths from the head and neck region to reconstruction of post-surgical defects. These surgeons are skilled in removing growths of the tongue, jaw bones, upper throat, voice box, neck, thyroid gland, parathyroid glands and salivary (spit) glands. Some Head and Neck Surgeons who have undertaken extra training in Reconstructive Head and Neck surgery are able to rebuild defects in the tongue, jaw bones, upper throat, voice box and neck with tissue from the arms, legs, hip and/or back to restore speaking and swallowing function and cosmetic form to these areas after surgery.

What types of surgeries do the Head and Neck Surgeons involved in The Head & Neck Clinic perform?

Dr. Harris, Dr. Seikaly, Dr. O’Connell and Dr. Biron have each completed five-year dedicated surgical training programs in Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, followed by a dedicated one or two years of specialized training in advanced Head and Neck Cancer and Reconstructive Surgery. The surgical team at The Head & Neck Clinic are able to provide and perform all types of Head and Neck surgeries, from removing cancer and non-cancer growths (tumours) from the mouth, tongue, jaw bones, upper throat, voice box, thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, salivary (spit) glands to delicate and advanced reconstructive surgery to rebuild these areas altered by tumour removal surgery.

Where can I find more information on head and neck cancer, as well as thyroid cancer?

Do the medical and surgical services provided by The Head & Neck Clinic have any increased cost to the patient?

No, all services provided by The Head & Neck Clinic are covered by Alberta Health & Wellness. Any patient with an up-to-date Alberta Health Care number or active provincial/territorial health care plan for any Canadian citizen or resident has full access to all services provided by the head & neck clinic at no added cost.

How do I get referred to The Head & Neck Clinic?

If you are concerned that you may be suffering from a head and neck cancer, or other disorder, please see your Primary Care or Family Care Physician for an initial assessment. If your Primary Care Physician (Family Doctor) identifies an issue or concern, they can send a referral request form to The Head & Neck Clinic via fax or email. Any licensed specialists, physicians, nurse practitioners, dentists or oral surgeons in Alberta can refer to The Head & Neck Clinic.

Please note: The information provided above is general information only and anyone with a concern about specific symptoms should see their family physician promptly.