Understanding diagnosis

What is head and neck cancer?

Our bodies are made up of millions of cells. Each cell has a specific job. Groups of cells with the same job make up tissues and organs, for example, skin or muscles.

Cells multiply to help our bodies grow and repair. When cells multiply in an abnormal way, they can form a lump (also known as a tumour), and damage the normal cells close by.

Not all lumps are cancer. Lumps or tumours that are not cancer are called benign. When a lump is a cancer, it is called malignant. That means the cancer cells take over the area of the body they are growing in.

Cancer can spread from one place to other parts of the body. Cancer spreads when cells travel through the lymphatic system to the lymph nodes or when cells break off the main lump and get carried in the blood to other parts of the body, where they can start growing. This is called metastasis.

Understanding your diagnosis

A diagnosis of cancer can be overwhelming and confusing. When you are first diagnosed, you may be in shock. You might not be able to concentrate on the news your doctor is giving you. This is normal.

You may have a lot of questions. You may not know what questions to ask, but it is important that you understand what a diagnosis of cancer means for you.

Talk with your healthcare team about your diagnosis and the different treatment options that may be helpful for you. Please tell your doctors if you are confused or do not understand something they tell you. You can ask questions during your appointments. Your healthcare team will give you information about cancer and support services that you may find helpful.

You can also find reliable information about the type of cancer you have and links to other useful sources of information on this website.