Head & Neck Cancer


Walter Lee, MD


David Brizel



Head and neck team The term head and neck cancer includes tumors arising in the mouth, throat, larynx, sinuses, lymph nodes, salivary glands, and thyroid gland. There are 50,000 new cases annually in the United States according to the National Cancer Institute, and it is the sixth most common type of cancer worldwide. Tobacco and heavy alcohol use are traditional risk factors. Infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) causes many types of head and neck cancer in non-tobacco users, however, and has become a significant problem throughout the developed world.  

Duke is a high-volume referral center for treatment of head and neck cancers. Physicians within this disease group are internationally recognized research and clinical experts who make these diseases their primary focus. Duke Cancer Institute's Head and Neck Cancer disease group has developed treatment innovations that now constitute the standard of care, such as a combination of intensive radiation therapy and simultaneous chemotherapy for advanced-stage head and neck cancer, operations that result in better function and less disfigurement, and the utilization of PET scanning before and after treatment to guide decision making.

Our team of specialists in head and neck oncologic surgery, plastic and reconstructive surgery, radiation oncology, medical oncology, radiology and pathology ensure that each patient receives state-of-the-art treatment—supported by the most advanced technology available anywhere. Robust speech pathology, audiology, and patient support services also play an active role in helping patients maintain quality of life throughout treatment and recovery.

We've created a new model for integrated care for the treatment of head and neck cancer embraced by cancer centers across the world. 


Tonsil cancer survivor Robert Russell with the nurses of the ninth floor of Duke Medical Center, whom he regularly visits and thanks for his care. (click photo to read his cancer story)Tonsil cancer survivor Robert Russell with the nurses of the ninth floor of Duke Medical Center, whom he regularly visits and thanks for his care. (click photo to read his cancer story)Individualized Treatment 

Duke radiation oncologists are leading the effort to use functional metabolic imaging to better determine prognosis, to predict the outcome of a planned course of treatment, and to personalize overall treatment strategies.

They are studying the use of CT and PET scans before and early in the course of treatment to determine if changes can be used to adjust treatment to reduce side effects.

This information will help to personalize treatment for individuals. 

Improved Surgical Outcomes

Duke head and neck surgeons use transoral robotic surgery for the treatment of select tonsil, tongue, and larynx cancers. This technique allows resection of these cancers without the need for large deforming surgical procedures and with a greater chance of preserving speech, swallowing and breathing functions. 

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Noninvasive Analysis of Head and Neck Lesions 

Researchers are investigating a light-based optical probe to rapidly and noninvasively analyze tumor characteristics and identify biomarkers before and during treatment. This probe, developed by Duke University biomedical engineers, may improve the ability to detect cancer and monitor the effectiveness of treatment, thus facilitating more personalized treatment recommendations.

Clinical Trials

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To make an appointment, please call 888.275.3853.

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Additional Contacts

Nolan Miller, Administrative Director
Phone: 919.684.1671