Explore the Head and Neck Program

Overview

The Head & Neck Radiation Oncology Program at Massachusetts General Hospital has a longstanding tradition of excellence with national and international leadership. Our program, part of a collaborative effort between two major hospitals, is unique not only to Boston but also to the U.S. medical community. To provide outstanding and comprehensive care, we work with a multidisciplinary team that includes accomplished physicians from the Mass General Cancer Center and Massachusetts Eye and Ear.

As members of this highly specialized team, our role is to integrate today's advanced radiation therapies into each patient's treatment plan, which often begins with surgery and may involve chemotherapy. We treat the complete range of head-and-neck cancers and other diseases, including:

  • Cancers of the oral cavity, oropharynx, nasopharynx, larynx, and hypopharynx
  • Nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers
  • Skull base tumors
  • Thyroid cancers
  • Major and minor salivary glands tumors, malignant and benign
  • Skin cancers affecting the eye, face, ear, and scalp
  • Cancers of the orbit and lacrimal system
  • Rare and complex tumors (e.g. adenoid cystic carcinoma, esthesioneuroblastoma, and sinonasal carcinoma)

Commitment to Innovation

In the 1970s, Mass General’s C.C. Wang, MD, a pioneer of head-and-neck radiation oncology, led groundbreaking studies that demonstrated how administering radiotherapy twice daily could improve outcomes in many patients. Today our physicians and scientists continue to develop and investigate new techniques and technologies used around the world to make treatment more effective and improve the quality of patients' lives.

Our team has been involved in breakthroughs such as:

  • Linear accelerator-based radiation therapy: Utilizing a variety of technological treatment planning including 3D conformal radiation therapy, intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), and volumetric modulated arc radiotherapy (VMAT).
  • Proton fractionated radiation therapy: The dosimetric advantage of protons allows the sparing of surrounding normal tissues while delivering high dose to the target. Protons are used to treat a variety of benign and malignant diseases in which patients are expected to achieve reasonably long-term survival or to derive a significant clinical benefit. Careful patient selection is used due to the limited availability of proton therapy. We offer both the pencil beam proton (intensity-modulated proton radiation therapy) and double-scattered protons.
  • High-dose rate interstitial brachytherapy: In interstitial implants, the catheters are inserted through tissue to encompass the tumor. Six to ten treatments are given over a period of three to five days during which time the patient is hospitalized. This technique allows nearby critical structures to be spared from high dose of radiation.
  • Surface mold high-dose rate brachytherapy: In surface mold brachytherapy, catheters are inserted through the custom surface molds that are laid on the treatment areas. This non-invasive techique is particularly good for superficial irregular targets such as skin cancer of the scalp. It allows rapid dose fall-off and normal tissue sparing.
  • Adaptive radiation therapy (ART): To improve precision of radiation delivery, ART has been in use clinically in recent years. Adaptive plans which accommodate patient-specific changes that are unaccounted for in initial plan are generated during treatment.
  • Imaging-guided radiation therapy (IGRT): In all our treatment machines, cone-beam CT modes are integrated with automated repositioning and motion management visualization software. The 3-dimensional cone-beam CT images allow tumor sites to be pinpointed, adjust patient positioning when necessary, and complete a treatment - all within the standard treatment time slot.
  • 4D CT scanning: Pioneered by our team, this imaging technology breakthrough enables us to plan more precise dosing of tumors in the head-and-neck region by accounting for tumor motion associated with breathing and swallowing.
  • Clinical trials: We have ongoing National Cancer Institute-supported clinical trials on a variety of head and neck cancers including oropharyngeal cancer, nasopharyngeal cancer, and thyroid cancer.

Comprehensive Clinical Care

We provide comprehensive clinical care excellence in managing the full spectrum of benign and malignant tumors of the head and neck. Due to the technological advancements within the department, we can offer the best radiotherapeutic treatment options that are tailored to an individual case. In addition, our patient care is in collaboration with multidisciplinary groups such as medical oncology and head and neck surgery. We have outstanding clinical resources within head and neck radiology, head and neck pathology, cancer psychology, pain and palliative services, speech and swallow specialists. There are numerous other patient-centric support services such as social work, massage therapy, acupuncture, support group, and nutrition consultations that complement our immediate radiation services and are directly accessible through our department.

Clinical Trials

Massachusetts General Hospital invites patients and the community to participate in innovative clinical trials and research studies.

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Patient Resources

Radiation Therapy Guide

Radiation Therapy Guide

This pdf describes what you can expect before and during your radiation treatments.

What to Expect

What to Expect

Learn about the radiation treatment process, and what to expect during each visit.

Virtual Guides

Virtual Guides

Browse our online guides to visualize steps throughout the radiation oncology process.

FAQs

FAQs

Find answers to frequently asked questions about radiation treatment.

Patient Education

Patient Education

Find various radiation oncology patient education resources to help answer your questions.