Department of Otolaryngology

Diagnosis & Treatment

Diagnosing and treating head and neck cancer should start here. At UPMC’s Division of Head and Neck Cancer, our team of experts works together to provide care that's best for you.


During your first visit to the division, an otolaryngologist (head and neck surgeon) will perform one or more of the following:

  • Physical exam
  • Scan (CT, MRI, and/or PET)
  • Needle biopsy (awake in the office)
  • Brief outpatient exam (under anesthesia)

The doctor should then be able to diagnose your tumor as benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). If the tumor is malignant, then he or she will also find out what stage the cancer is in.

The following are the stages of head and neck cancer:

  • Stage I — cancers are small, localized, and usually curable.
  • Stage II — cancers are typically small and locally advanced.
  • Stages III and IV — cancers have spread (metastatic) to local lymph nodes and possibly other parts of the body. These stages require combined treatment with surgery and radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy.

It's important for the otolaryngologist to locate the primary site of the tumor and see if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the neck or other areas.

Head and Neck Cancer Treatments

After diagnosis, UPMC’s head and neck cancer team meets at the tumor board conference to discuss the best treatment for each patient on an individual basis.

This multidisciplinary approach includes UPMC experts that specialize in certain areas of cancer treatment. Once the team decides on your treatment options, they will assign your case to the treating doctor who will contact. The treatment process depends on the tumor type, size, and location, and the stage of cancer. Combined therapy is the main treatment method for most people with head and neck cancer.

Treatments may include one or more of the following:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy

After treatment

Most recurrent tumors appear within the first two years following treatment. Your head and neck cancer doctor will schedule follow-up appointments with you during these first two years to monitor this risk.