Our Approach to Head and Neck Cancers

Head and neck cancers develop in and adjacent to the head but outside of the brain, in areas such as the throat, voice box, mouth, nose, thyroid, and salivary glands. Tumors in these areas can interfere with vital bodily functions such as talking and swallowing.

The Head and Neck Tumor Center located at the Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital is where Siteman Cancer Center specialists see more patients than any other team in the region. They are experts at removing and treating tumors while preserving their patients’ appearance and restoring their quality of life.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a head and neck cancer, we’re ready to help.

The Siteman Advantage

Siteman Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Missouri. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks us among the top cancer facilities in the nation.

Since its founding in 1999, Siteman has been leading the charge against cancer from the middle of the Midwest. Our Washington University oncologists and scientists have an impressive track record of discoveries that have fundamentally changed how cancer is treated.

At Siteman, we unite compassionate patient care and ground-breaking cancer research.


Multidisciplinary care from expert providers

When you come to Siteman, you will be cared for by Washington University medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and surgeons who are specialists in the treatment of head and neck cancers. They have extensive experience treating head and neck cancer patients and even study head and neck cancers in the laboratory, searching for new approaches and therapies.

At Siteman, we treat our patients as a team. The surgeons and physicians within the Head and Neck Tumor Center come from many different medical schools and training programs, which gives us a broad and rich knowledge base that we bring to bear for every patient.  We discuss patient cases at a weekly tumor board and collaborate on our patients’ treatment plans. This means that your treatment plan will have been designed and vetted by an entire group of experts.

Safe, effective surgery

When performing surgery for head and neck cancer, our Washington University surgeons use advanced tools and novel techniques to remove tumors while protecting patients from serious side effects, such as changes to their appearance or a diminished ability to swallow and talk. We can remove a tumor and reconstruct the area affected during the same procedure, sparing patients the risk and inconvenience of multiple surgeries. Our team has also been a national and international leader in minimally-invasive approaches, including transoral robotic surgery and scarless thyroid and parathyroid surgery.

State of the art radiation therapy

At Siteman, our Washington University radiation oncologists use advanced treatment methods, including photon, electron, and proton beam therapy, IMRT and SBRT.  These tools allow treatment to focus on tumors and avoid normal tissues as much as possible, improving our patients’ quality of life after treatment.  This can be considered minimally-invasive radiation therapy, akin to our surgeons’ use of minimally-invasive surgery.

Our radiation team have been national and international leaders in developing advanced treatment techniques.  Washington University was home to the world’s first compact proton machine, as well as the world’s first ViewRay machine, which allows visualization to tumors during treatment.

Medical therapies

Medical therapies, or intravenous medications such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy, can play a critical role in head and neck cancer treatment, especially for patients with advanced, recurrent, or metastatic cancer. The Washington University medical oncologists at Siteman are experts at tailoring treatment plans to each patient, working to achieve the best possible outcome with the fewest possible side effects. They are also developing new drugs and new combinations of drugs to bring their patients even better results.

Clinical trials

Head and neck cancer patients at Siteman often receive treatment through clinical trials. Clinical trials are research studies examining new treatments and approaches, including immunotherapies and targeted therapies for malignant tumors.

Siteman offers more trials than any other facility in the region. If a trial could be a good fit for you, your physicians will be able to include it in your treatment plan. Access to these trials may allow you to receive cutting-edge treatment for your cancer well before it is available on a national scale.

At Siteman, we welcome your questions regarding the benefits and risks of participating in a clinical trial. No one is obligated to participate in a trial if they do not wish to do so.

Palliative care

Many patients are reluctant to ask for palliative care. They believe that it means giving up on a cure or remission and preparing for death. But the real goal of palliative care is to help you manage your symptoms and treatment side effects so you can have a higher quality of life during treatment and enjoy time with your family and friends. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness.

Palliative care is provided by a specially-trained team of doctors, nurse practitioners, social workers, and chaplains, who work together with the patient’s surgical, radiation or medical oncologists. The palliative physician makes recommendations on extended pain management and any other support the patient or family needs. He or she will offer suggestions about integrating the family’s lifestyle and spiritual beliefs into the care plan.

Learn More about the Head and Neck Tumor Center

Listen to the recent “This is Cancer” podcast episode featuring Washington University Otolaryngologist and Chief of Head and Neck Surgery at Siteman Cancer Center, Sidharth Puram, MD, PhD.