Head and neck cancer is cancer affecting areas of the head or neck. There are around 30 areas that can develop head and neck cancer. They include:

Cancers affecting the thyroid, eyes, oesophagus (gullet or food pipe) and brain tumours are not usually classified as head and neck cancers.

People in Cheshire and Merseyside are more likely to develop head and neck cancers than most other parts of the UK. 

The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre is a key partner in Liverpool Head and Neck Centre, the UK’s largest integrated NHS and university collaboration for research and treatment for people with head and neck conditions including cancer.

About head and neck cancer

Head and neck cancer develops after a change in the DNA of the cells of the affected area. (DNA is the genetic material that tells cells what to do.) As these faulty cells divide and multiply, they eventually cause a cancer. 

There are two main types of head and neck cancer: 

  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) – Most head and neck cancers (around 9 in 10) start in squamous cells. Squamous cells are flat cells that line the surfaces in the mouth, nose, throat and other areas. 
  • Non-squamous cell carcinoma (NSCC) – Head and neck cancers that do not start in squamous cells are known as non-squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck.

Anyone can develop head and neck cancer but some factors can increase your risk. They include:

  • Smoking or using tobacco, betel nut or paan
  • Drinking a lot of alcohol
  • Having some types of human papilloma virus (HPV) infection
  • A weakened immune system 

Symptoms of head and neck cancer vary depending on where the cancer is. Find out more on our pages for different types of head and neck cancer:

Treatment depends on a range of factors including the size, stage and location of your tumour. It may also depend on your age, general health and genetic factors (linked to the DNA changes in your cells) that tell us how your cancer developed. 

Treatment options can include one or more of the following:

  • Surgery – this may be before, during or after other treatments
  • Drug therapies such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy. The general term for these is systemic anti-cancer therapies (SACT)
  • Radiotherapy 

When you are diagnosed, your care will be discussed at a multidisciplinary team meeting (MDT) where different specialists will consider the best treatment options for you. Your doctor will discuss this with you so you can decide what is right for you.

Genomics and cancer

Genomics is the study of a person’s genes (or ‘genome’) – the material in DNA that makes each person unique. Cancer is caused by changes in the DNA of a cell and tell it to multiply out of control. 

Understanding where this change has occurred – for example, which gene is faulty – can help us know which treatment will give you the best chance of killing the cancer cells and stopping new ones from growing. 

Your clinical team will explain this to you in more detail at your appointment. 

Our treatments

The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre provides non-surgical treatment (such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiotherapy) for head and neck cancers. 

We work closely with surgical teams in other hospitals to plan and manage your care so you get the very best treatment.

We are a key member of Liverpool Head and Neck Centre, which is a collaboration between:

  • The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust
  • Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust
  • University of Liverpool

Systemic anti-cancer therapy (SACT)

SACT is a term used to describe the different drug therapies for cancer. These include: 

  • Chemotherapy – which aims to kill cancer cells
  • Immunotherapy – which aims to train your immune system to attack cancer 
  • Targeted therapies – which aim to target the DNA and cell changes that cause cancer. For example, BRAF targeted therapy which blocks a protein linked to cancer cells
  • Total neoadjuvant therapy – where you receive chemotherapy and radiotherapy before surgery


We use different types of radiotherapy, depending on the size, location and stage of the cancer. Sometimes people have radiotherapy instead of surgery. Sometimes they have it after surgery or to help ease symptoms.

The radiotherapy treatments we offer for head and neck cancer include:

  • Traditional external beam radiotherapy – where radiation is delivered from outside the body
  • Stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) – a way of very precisely targeting radiotherapy to certain cancers

Our advanced radiotherapy facilities mean we can target treatment very precisely so your cancer gets the best possible dose of radiation. 

Our facilities include linear accelerators, superficial and orthovoltage x-ray treatment machines, simulators, scanners and 3D planning systems. 

Find out more about having radiotherapy for head and neck cancers.

Other treatment and support

Sometimes people have difficulty speaking, swallowing or eating as a result of head and neck cancer or treatment for head and neck cancer.

We will offer lots of support if this happens to you. Our dietitians and our speech and language therapists specialise in helping people with cancer.

Speech and language therapy 

Our speech and language therapists can help you find the best ways to communicate with other people. This may include changing how you use speech, your voice or other ways of communicating.

Our speech and language therapists can also assess your swallowing and offer practical help specific to your needs. 


Our dietitians are experts in nutrition and use their specialist knowledge to provide advice about food, eating and drinking. They help people affected by cancer to stay nourished and hydrated throughout your care, supporting your wellbeing and quality of life.  

Clinical trials

Research and trials of new cancer treatments are an important part of our work. Your consultant will tell you about any clinical trials that may be suitable for you.

You are also very welcome to ask us about clinical trials during your appointments. We will be happy to answer any questions you have. 

Find out more about clinical trials

Treatment locations

We have a multi-site model where we visit hospitals across Cheshire and Merseyside to provide treatment and consultations closer to patients’ homes. 

We provide systemic anti-cancer therapies (e.g. chemotherapy and immunotherapy) for head and neck cancer at the following sites:

We provide radiotherapy for breast cancer in our three specialist sites: 

The team consists of clinical oncologists, medical oncologists, a consultant radiographer, clinical nurse specialists, radiographers, pharmacy, research practitioners, administrative support and a cancer support worker. Dietitians and speech and language therapists are also an important part of the team. 

Our operational management team makes sure the service runs smoothly.


Clinical Oncologists

Dr Anoop Haridass
Dr Caroline Brammer
Dr Ehab Ibrahim
Dr Rachel Brooker

Medical Oncologists

Professor Christian Ottensmeier
Dr Joseph Sacco


Clinical Nurse Specialists

Ann Whittaker
Faye Davies
Kate Green
Stephanie O'Flynn

Clinical Support Worker

Rose Butler

Consultant Radiographer 

Gemma Din

Radiotherapy to the head or neck - patient information leaflet

Information about radiotherapy at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre

Information about chemotherapy and other cancer drugs at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre

Our Cancer Information and Support Centres can provide individualised help and support for patients and families affected by cancer. The team’s main base is in Clatterbridge Cancer Centre – Liverpool but they also work at our Aintree and Wirral hospitals.

There are also local Macmillan services in other hospitals across our region.

External sites that offer extra support and information about head and neck cancer include: