Head and neck cancer specialists in Denver

Head and neck cancers usually begin in the cells that line the surfaces of the mouth, throat, and voice box. Early detection is key to treating these types of cancer successfully.

The cancer specialists within HealthONE Physician Group offer comprehensive treatment options tailored to each patient. We place a high priority on improving survival rates for cancer patients and care greatly about their overall health and well-being.

For more information about our services, please schedule an appointment with us.

Causes of head and neck cancer

Tobacco use is the most preventable cause of deaths from head or neck cancer. This includes not only smoking, but using smokeless or spit tobacco.

E-cigarettes and vaping products may also pose health risks and should not be viewed as a safe alternative to smoking. Alcohol is another common cause of cancers of the mouth, throat, voice box and tongue.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 70 percent of cancers of the tonsils, tongue and back of the mouth are linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the U.S.

The CDC states that the HPV vaccine does protect against the types of HPV that can cause oropharyngeal cancers, so it may also prevent these cancers.

Head and neck cancer symptoms

Talk to a doctor as soon as possible at the first signs of head and neck cancer:


While bleeding in the mouth is usually caused by something other than cancer, in some cases, bleeding can be caused by tumors in the nose, mouth, throat or lungs.

Changes in the skin

Basal cell skin cancer is the most common type of head and neck cancer. However, this type of cancer is rarely serious if diagnosed and treated early on.

Basal cell cancers typically appear on skin that is often exposed to the sun, such as the forehead, face and ears. This type of cancer usually starts as a small, pale patch on the skin that enlarges slowly.

There are other kinds of cancer that can occur on the head and neck, such as squamous cell cancer and malignant melanoma. Moles on the neck and head could also be a sign of a tumor or cancer.

Look out for moles that change size, change color or start to bleed, which may indicate cancer.

Difficulty swallowing

Cancers that begin in the throat or esophagus can make it difficult to swallow. If a person has a problem swallowing every time they try to eat, they need to see a doctor.

Earache that does not go away

Persistent earache can be a sign of tumor growth or an infection in the throat. Visit an ear, nose and throat specialist if a persistent earache is accompanied by painful swallowing, hoarseness or a lump in the neck.

Growth in the mouth

A sore mouth or swelling in the tongue could be a sign of cancer.

These sores might be painless but could still indicate a tumor or cancer. If a person has an ulcer or swelling in the mouth or tongue, along with lumps in the neck that persist for more than two weeks, it’s important to consult a physician. They will determine whether a biopsy is needed.

Lump in the neck

Typically, cancers that first present in the head or neck spread to the lymph nodes before spreading to other parts of the body.

A lump (or lumps) in the neck can be the first sign of cancers in the mouth, throat, larynx, thyroid gland or salivary glands.

See a doctor as soon as possible if a lump in the neck appears for two weeks or more.

Voice changes

The majority of cancers in a person’s voice box cause a change in their voice.

Most voice changes are not caused by cancer, but if someone is hoarse or voice changes persist for more than two weeks, they need to see a doctor.

Tumors and cancers of the head and neck

We treat patients diagnosed with many common and rare otolaryngological tumors and cancers, including:

Laryngeal cancers and pharyngeal (throat) cancers

Most laryngeal cancers start in the larynx, which is between the base of the tongue and the trachea around the vocal cords.

Pharyngeal cancers in the throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx) or tonsils and begin as a pre-cancer called dysplasia, or abnormal cells.

Oral (mouth) cancer

Oral cancer, also called oral cavity cancer or mouth cancer, is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the lips or mouth.

Oropharyngeal cancer

Oropharyngeal cancer refers to cancers of the oropharynx, or the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and the tonsils.

Symptoms of oropharyngeal cancer include persistent sore throat, earaches, hoarseness, swollen lymph nodes and painful swallowing.

Treatment for oropharyngeal cancer depends upon the stage of the cancer, the patient’s overall health at the time of diagnosis, and how best to maintain their ability to speak and swallow as normal as possible.

According to the National Cancer Institute, oropharyngeal tumors related to HPV infection have a better prognosis (and are less likely to return) than tumors not linked to HPV infection.

The number of cases of oropharyngeal cancers linked to HPV (human papillomavirus) infection is increasing.

Parathyroid tumors

Parathyroid cancer is a rare cancer that usually affects people in their 40s or 50s and occurs in one of the four parathyroid glands.

Salivary gland cancers

There are many different types of benign and malignant tumors that may develop in the salivary glands in the mouth, neck or throat. Benign salivary gland tumors are almost never life-threatening and can be completely removed through surgery.

Most salivary gland cancers are rare. Due to the location of the salivary glands, these types of cancers can be detected and treated early.

Skin cancer and malignant melanoma

Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that arises when pigment-producing cells—known as melanocytes—mutate and become cancerous.

Most pigment cells are found in the skin, but melanoma can also occur in other parts of the body.

Thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer is specific to the thyroid, which is a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck. Although some thyroid cancers grow quickly, most cases can be cured with the proper treatment.