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Head and Neck Cancer Surgery

At the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System (UI Health) department of otolaryngology - head & neck surgery, our mission is to treat patients with benign (not invasive, but may become harmful in some instances) and malignant (cancerous and have the potential to spread elsewhere in the body) tumors of the head and neck region. The head and neck contain many structures, which are very important to daily functions of speech, swallowing, and breathing. 

The head and neck cancer patient faces many complex issues. We are thoughtful to the multiple needs of the head and neck cancer patient. A team of doctors including head and neck surgeons, reconstructive surgeons, medical oncologists (cancer specialists), radiation oncologists, speech and language therapists, oral-maxillofacial surgeons, and prosthodontists see each patient. When a tumor is treatable to minimally invasive surgery, such as TransOral Robotic Surgery, we can decrease the chances of other problems associated with other more drastic methods of completely removing a patient's tumor. Our team is uniquely equipped with all the necessary specialists to completely treat your tumor, no matter how complex or how advanced your disease.

About Head and Neck Cancer?

Head and neck cancer refers to any cancer coming from the oral cavity or mouth, the pharynx or throat, the larynx or voice box, the nose and the sinuses, the thyroid gland, the salivary glands like the parotid gland, and the skin from the shoulders up.  Head and neck cancer accounts for 3-5% of the new cancer cases diagnosed in the United States each year.   Although this represents much lower numbers of new cancer cases in comparison to breast cancer for example, the treatment effects are often life altering even when cure is achieved.  This type of cancer is often related to a history of tobacco use, smoked or chewed, or alcohol abuse. In recent years there are more cancer cases occurring in patients who have never used tobacco or abused alcohol but are instead linked to the presence of Human PapillomaVirus (HPV).

  • This year, an estimated 53,640 people (39,300 men and 14,340 women) will develop head and neck cancers.
  • It is estimated that 11,520 deaths (8,360 men and 3,160 women) will occur this year.          
    American Cancer Society's publication, Cancer Facts & Figures 2013.  

Most head and neck cancers begin in the moist tissues that line the mouth, nose and throat. Head and neck cancers can also be called:

  • Mouth cancer 
  • Tongue cancer 
  • Throat cancer 
  • Oropharyngeal cancer 
  • Oral cavity cancer 
  • Cancer of the voice box 
  • Laryngeal cancer 
  • Sinus cancer 
  • Lip cancer 
  • Skin cancer 
  • Thyroid cancer 
  • Salivary gland cancer 
  • Parotid cancer

Why Choose Us?

UI Health offers a team approach to managing your cancer.  Once a week all of the specialists involved in diagnosing, staging, and treating your cancer meet to discuss the new patients and develop the best treatment plan for you. This team is made of:

  • Ear, Nose, and Throat surgeon cancer specialists
  • Radiation Oncologists who provide radiation therapy
  • Medical Oncologists who provide chemotherapy
  • Neuro radiologists who interpret your imaging studies that assist in developing your tumor stage which enables your doctor to give you prognostic information
  • Pathologists who review your biopsies, and
  • Speech Pathologists who are involved in your rehabilitation of function of your mouth, voice box, and throat that often begins even before your treatment.

The Ear, Nose, and Throat Cancer surgeons at UI Health are unique to the Chicago area in their ability to offer certain patients robot-assisted surgery.  If your cancer is amenable to this treatment, it is beneficial to you in that it is minimally invasive so your recovery is quicker as is your function, or your ability to eat, and breathe.  In addition, if surgery is recommended as part of your treatment and your surgeon can anticipate a significant loss of tissue that would impair your function, Drs. Wenig and Jefferson are experts in providing microvascular surgical reconstruction at the same time of removing your cancer.

Symptoms & Detection

Some of the warning signs and symptoms for head and neck cancer include a non-healing ulcer of the mouth or lip, difficulty swallowing, neck mass, hoarseness that is constant for two weeks or more and not relieved with antibiotics, constant ear pain in one ear, unintentional weight loss, and coughing up blood.  These signs should prompt you to visit your doctor who will refer you to an Otolaryngologist, or an Ear, Nose, and Throat surgeon.

Stages and treatment

The earlier that a cancer is diagnosed, the more likely the treatment will be successful. At UI Health, our comprehensive team will work together to find the best treatment for you.

Our Team


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