Head and Neck Tumours

Head and neck tumours are types of cancer located in the larynx, throat, mouth, pharynx, lip, nasal sinuses, nose, saliva glands, craniofacial bones, thyroid gland and the neck. The most common types of cancer in this region are cancer of the larynx, mouth, and throat.

Both in Germany as well as worldwide, malignant head and neck tumours are the seventh most common type of cancer. Often, head and neck tumours are not diagnosed until they reach a fairly advanced stage.

The most common risk factor is consumption of nicotine and tobacco. Human papilloma viruses (HPV) can also cause tumours in the throat. However, there are several other factors that may trigger the development of malignant head and neck tumours. These include:
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
- Paints and varnishes containing chrome or nickel
- Asbestos
- Radioactive radiation
- UV radiation
- Severely compromised immune system (for example after a transplant)
- Chronic wounds in mucous membrane
- Poor oral hygiene


Tumours in the head and neck can lead to a wide range of different symptoms. A first warning sign of a tumour in the head or neck area may be a new painless swelling on one side of the neck. There are also a wide range of other complaints which may vary in intensity depending on the area affected. Typical symptoms of the two most common types of head and neck tumours are as follows:

Typical symptoms for tumours of the larynx:
- Hoarseness
- Feeling a foreign body is present
- Sore throat
- Difficulties swallowing
- Difficulty breathing as the larynx becomes increasingly constricted

Typical symptoms for tumours in the mouth and throat:
- Pain in the mouth or throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Feeling that a foreign body is present
- Recurring bleeding from the mouth
- Restricted mobility of tongue in advanced stage
- Inability to fully open the mouth

Any new symptoms should be checked as soon as possible with an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist, as the chances of a cure are better the sooner the disease is detected.


Both the Department of Otorhinolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery and the Department of Radiation Oncology at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen are members of the DZI. In our joint interdisciplinary outpatient clinic, we offer patients tailored, cutting-edge methods of treatment.

The best possible course of treatment for each individual patient is determined according to the stage of the tumour and the overall situation of the patient.

If the tumour has not spread beyond the head and neck, a single operation, a single course of radiation therapy, a single course of chemotherapy or a combination of surgery followed by radiation and chemotherapy may be sufficient to cure the patient.

However, if the head and neck tumour has spread to other organ systems (metastasis), we regularly use immune checkpoint inhibitors, a type of immunotherapy, to treat the patient. These block areas on the surface of the tumour which prevent the immune system from attacking the tumour cells. This activates the immune system and triggers an attack against the tumour cells. We also use targeted therapies in which antibodies attack proteins on the surface of the tumour. This can slow the growth of the tumour. Used in combination with radiation therapy, it is even possible to stop the tumour growing altogether.

The DZI goes one step further and offers patients the possibility to take part in national and international trials using the most modern medicine even before those have been approved for general use. These trials aim to increase the chances of survival for patients suffering from head and neck cancer. Furthermore, the DZI also offers all patients receiving immunotherapy the possibility to benefit from special examinations monitoring the activity of their immune system. This can indicate how successful the treatment is and suggest which side-effects are to be expected. This helps us to tailor the treatment to suit each individual patient and keep side effects in check as far as possible.

We are happy to advise you in our interdisciplinary outpatient clinic and discuss whether you may be a candidate for treatment that is not yet available elsewhere.

Do you have any questions on the treatment of head and neck tumours? Please feel free to get in touch with us by phone, e-mail or via our contact form.