Head and Neck Program

The Department of Radiation Oncology's Head-and-Neck Program specializes in providing state-of-the-art radiation therapy for patients with head-and-neck cancers, including complex forms of these diseases.


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 the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.

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.

Meet the Team

Planning and administering radiation therapy for head-and-neck tumors is complicated due to the sensitive nature of the structures in this area (e.g. the spinal cord, cranial nerves, the eyes and blood vessels to and from the brain). Much of the anatomy is hidden beneath or among bone, nerves and tissue, and the patterns in which some tumors spread can be intricate. We treat these complex conditions regularly and have built a nationwide reputation for managing the most difficult cases.

Our staff of accomplished physicians includes:

  • Paul Busse, MD, PhD, program chief and clinical director of the Department of Radiation Oncology, has treated a wide array of complex head-and-neck cancers over the past 25 years. Dr. Busse's clinical specialties including integrating proton therapy with chemotherapy for select patients and treating tongue cancer with brachytherapy
  • Norbert Liebsch, MD, PhD, is an expert in treating maxillofacial cancers and tumors of the orbit (eye) with proton therapy. An accomplished researcher and educator, Dr. Liebsch has practiced radiation oncology for nearly three decades
  • Annie Chan, MD, specializes in treating sinonasal tumors and other cancers of the head and neck. Dr. Chan's expertise includes IMRT, proton therapy and stereotactic radiosurgery

Patient Education

We encourage you to ask us about any step in the treatment process. The answers to many frequently asked questions also appear in Your Guide to Radiation Therapy (PDF).

Clinical Trials

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

Search open clinical trials.


Contact Us

Clark Center for Radiation Oncology

Vida E & Arthur L. Goldstein Lunder Building

55 Fruit StreetLunder Building LL3 Boston, MA 02114
  • Near Public Transit
  • Accessible
  • Phone: 617-726- 8651
  • Fax: 857-238-6377
  • Email Us

Francis H. Burr Proton Therapy Center
30 Fruit Street
Boston, MA 02114
Phone: 617-726-0923 (Proton Inquiry Line: 617-724-1680)
Fax: 617-726-6498
Email: InformationRadOnc@partners.org

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