Head and neck cancer

Woman looking into the distance

The Spectrum Health Head and Neck Surgical Department along with its associated Cancer Multispecialty Clinic is the first of its kind in West Michigan. Our providers offer diagnosis and treatment for patients with both benign and cancerous tumors of the throat, tongue, jaw, palate, sinus, ears, neck, thyroid, salivary gland, skin and HPV-related cancers throughout the head and neck region. Spectrum Health is among just a few programs to feature ENTs (ear, nose and throat specialists) with fellowship training specifically in head and neck diseases, allowing them to perform the most complex surgical procedures on the most challenging patients in the region.


Early detection is key. You are your best advocate in your health care. Discuss suspicious symptoms with your primary care doctor, dentist or ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT). Cancers caught early have much better outcomes. The symptoms of head and neck cancers may include any lump or sore that does not heal; white or red patches in the mouth or throat; a sore throat that does not go away; difficulty in swallowing or breathing; a change or hoarseness in the voice; pain or weakness in the face, neck, jaw or mouth. While these symptoms may also be caused by other, less serious conditions, they should be reported.


Patients should seek care at an institution such as Spectrum Health, that has dedicated head and neck surgeons who offer a team approach to care coordination. Getting the right diagnosis and plan is critical. If cancer is suspected, a referral to a specialist for diagnostic testing is the first step. The diagnostic process may include an examination by the specialist, a procedure to view the inside of the throat, voice box or nose, biopsy (a tissue sample), swallow tests, or imaging such as ultrasound, CT, MRI or PET scans.

Cancer treatment

We hope it is not cancer, but if it is, our head and neck surgeons will guide your care. Your diagnosis is discussed in our weekly head and neck cancer meeting that focuses exclusively on the diagnosis and treatment of head and neck cancers. Our multidisciplinary approach personalizes each patient’s treatment plan, taking into account the disease, stage of the disease, medical history, lifestyle and eligibility for clinical trials offered.

Highly skilled technique and cutting-edge technology

Our surgeons are specially trained and skilled in all types of minimally invasive, surgical and non-surgical treatment approaches with access to state-of the-art technology. We often team up with surgeons from different specialties such as neurosurgery, plastic surgery and ophthalmology to address the complexities of advanced disease.

  • Open resection with microvascular reconstructive surgery (free flap).
  • Transoral robotic surgery (TORS).
  • Transoral laser microsurgery (TLM).
  • Skull-base surgery.
  • Thyroid, parathyroid, parotid, salivary gland, neck mass and lymph node removal/dissection.
  • In office laryngoscopy and biopsy.
  • In office ultrasound and ultrasound guided biopsy.
  • On-site and close to home MRI, CT, PET imaging along with new imaging techniques that detect and illuminate cancer cells during the operation. This enables surgeons to remove tumors while sparing as much normal tissue as possible.


We prefer to be proactive and start recovery before any surgery occurs. We conduct a preoperative assessment to identify complex medical history, nutritional status, chronic infections, or bleeding disorders. We seek to understand any potential social barriers including: physical limitations; lack of family support; or assistance needed with specialized care, such as tracheostomy or feeding tube management.

Studies and real-world experience have proven that patients recover quicker and do better overall if we engage dietitians, speech and language pathologists, or pain and symptom management (palliative care) specialists before as well as after surgery.

We take a holistic approach to your health and wellness. We will ask our medical social workers and financial counselors to reach out to ensure you have the support you need or identify barriers to getting the care you deserve.

We offer optional access to therapies such as psychology support, clergy, yoga, art, massage and acupuncture because we want to focus on treating the whole you— mind, body and spirit.

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