What multidisciplinary care means for head and neck cancer patients

December 09, 2022

Head and neck cancer refers to a variety of malignancies that develop in the mouth, tongue, tonsils, nasal cavity, sinuses, throat and larynx. Because of their location, these cancers — and their treatment — can have significant physical, functional and psychosocial effects on patients.

A multidisciplinary team of oncologists who specialize in these complex cancers is essential for optimal disease management, patient outcomes and patient quality of life. At Allina Health Cancer Institute (AHCI), our oncology team collaborates with several specialties for consensus treatment planning.

Our team provides comprehensive cancer care along with coordinated services in reconstruction, speech-language pathology, nutrition and others to enhance patient recovery. We’re dedicated to exceptional care for head and neck cancer patients, with access to standard-of-care treatments and investigational therapies that are not yet widely available.

Who is part of the multidisciplinary team for head and neck cancers

Our head and neck cancer specialists focus on cancers affecting the larynx, oral cavity, oropharynx, nasopharynx, nasal cavity, paranasal sinuses, hypopharynx and salivary glands. (Brain, thyroid and esophageal cancers are not considered head and neck cancers because they differ in symptoms and treatment.)

Our core team integrates medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and otolaryngology surgeons, all with extensive expertise in head and neck cancer treatment. Team members specialize in various aspects of treatment, including robotic-assisted surgery, reconstructive surgery, advanced drug therapy and the latest techniques in radiation therapy.

The team meets regularly in multidisciplinary tumor boards to discuss patient cases and determine appropriate care and management. We develop a coordinated care plan that may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy or a combination of these treatments.

The head and neck cancer team is integrated within Allina Health Cancer Institute

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Our head and neck cancer specialists are co-located within AHCI, with the largest teams at Abbott Northwestern and United Hospital. These centers include integrated radiation oncology departments so that patients can receive all their care in one convenient location.

The oncology groups include physicians, surgeons, technicians, nurses and other providers in close collaboration to coordinate patient care. The volume of patients that we see and the integration among all these groups allows us to provide high-quality care to patients throughout their treatment journey.

How we coordinate multispecialty care at Allina Health Cancer Institute

Our oncology nurse navigators play a key role in guiding patients throughout the head and neck cancer treatment process. The navigators coordinate appointments for patients, facilitate communication among providers and serve as the point of contact for the care team and patient.

Depending on each patient’s specific situation, we coordinate with other specialists for comprehensive services that support head and neck cancer treatment and recovery. These professionals provide supportive care and services to manage physical function and psychosocial issues, and they include:

  • Speech-language pathologists for swallowing and speech therapy
  • Registered dietitians for personalized nutrition plans
  • Cancer rehabilitation specialists to help patients regain strength, mobility and function
  • Integrative oncology specialists to provide complementary therapies that support healing and well-being
  • Oncology social work with licensed providers to connect patients with a wide range of resources
  • Palliative care specialists who provide care, in conjunction with active cancer treatment, to minimize cancer symptoms and side effects of treatment

Head and neck cancer research at Allina Health Cancer Institute

The oncologists at AHCI are physician-researchers at the forefront of research and clinical trials for all types of cancer, including head and neck cancer. We conduct internal AHCI clinical trials and also participate in trials through Metro-Minnesota Community Oncology Research Consortium (MMCORC).

For eligible patients, our participation in clinical trials offers access to investigational treatments that aren’t widely available at other cancer centers. Recent trials have studied treatment options for patients who have incurable disease, to potentially prolong life and improve quality of life. Other trials are studying whether the addition of immunotherapy to chemotherapy and radiation results in a better outcome.

Partner with Allina Health Cancer Institute: How to refer your patients

We welcome referrals from health care providers across the Twin Cities, western Wisconsin and beyond. Here’s how you can refer a patient to AHCI for cancer care:

Providers within Allina Health can place a consult order within Epic.

Providers from outside Allina Health can refer patients by calling our nearest cancer center: