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Health Innovations

How Multidisciplinary Care and Research Benefits Head and Neck Cancer Patients

Jun. 25, 2021

High volume centers of care for head and neck cancers, like the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center, can improve patient outcomes through specialized multidisciplinary teams.


What is head and neck cancer?

Head and neck cancer is the term given to cancers that start in the head and neck region-specific areas can include the throat, mouth and nose. A very rare diagnosis, head and neck cancer accounts for only 5% of all cancers in the United States.

“We’re treating a rare cancer that has a 50% overall survival rate,” explained Chad A. Zender, MD, professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, co-director of the Head and Neck Center of Excellence at the UC Cancer Center and associate chief medical officer at UC Health.

These types of cancers can be caused by external or genetic factors. Some of the risk factors include:

  • Using tobacco.
  • Alcohol use.
  • Unhealthy diet.
  • Poor mouth care.
  • HPV infection.
  • Sun exposure.

Head and neck cancer diagnosis

Our bodies can often give clues to underlying conditions that may require medical attention. Luckily, head and neck screenings can help doctors detect cancer in the early stages and should be considered if any of these symptoms are occurring:

  • Pain or sores in your mouth that do not resolve in one week.
  • Bumps on your neck.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Changes in your voice.

The UC Head and Neck Cancer team understands the toll head and neck cancer can have and is dedicated to delivering the highest level of compassionate care and the most advanced treatments.

“We help carry that burden that a head and neck cancer diagnosis has, and we truly offer and give everything we can to help patients get through this and live normal lives,” said Dr. Zender.  

What is a multidisciplinary approach to head and neck cancer?

Head and neck cancer patients at the UC Cancer Center receive multidisciplinary care – this means they not only are getting care from cancer specialists, but they are also connected with UC Health experts in areas like social work, dentistry, nutrition therapy, plastic surgery and more.

“We know the other services that we provide, such as speech therapy or nutrition, alongside the support of our nurse navigators, help our patients navigate a complex medical system. These services are critical in helping them not just get through the treatment, but also deal with side effects,” Dr. Zender added.

Multidisciplinary care also allows for additional opinions and may help identify patients who could benefit from clinical trials.

How does research benefit patients at the UC Head and Neck Cancer Center?

Because head and neck cancer still has a 50% survival rate, it’s important for patients to have the opportunity to access clinical trials that offer new cutting-edge treatments – which can only be found at academic centers like UC Health. Knowing this, the UC Head and Neck Cancer Center is constantly working to provide innovative treatment options through continuous research.

“We have patients that come from all over the country to get their care here because we offer clinical trials based on research that have been done right here in the University of Cincinnati labs and applied to the bedside with our patients to improve outcomes,” Dr. Zender said.

Hope: a centerpiece at the UC Head and Neck Cancer Center

While head and neck cancer is challenging, the UC Head and Neck Cancer Center is committed to beating this disease.

“Hope is a centerpiece here. It’s part of the research that we do, it’s part of our clinicians that are dedicated to patients who suffer from this disease and it’s part of our nurses and ancillary staff,” said Dr. Zender.