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Treatment Types

Your loved one’s cancer care team will use the information from the diagnosis—namely, the specific type of cancer and the disease stage—to select the best treatment options. You and the patient should ask questions to understand the benefits, risks and side effects associated with the suggested treatment plan.

There are typically three types of therapeutic treatments for head and neck cancer: surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy (or a combination of these therapies).

Surgeons performing surgeryTreatment type: surgery

If your loved one’s cancer care team selects cancer removal surgery, which is very likely, then it may be the only treatment needed. Surgery can be curative. Surgery can also be combined with other therapies. For example, the cancer care team can perform surgery as the primary treatment, and later, the cancer care team can perform radiation therapy.

The treatment goals for surgery include removing as much of the tumor as possible and keeping the nearby anatomic structures intact. Extensive head and neck surgery sometimes necessitates the removal of bones, such as part of the jaw, or even entire structures, such as the external ear. Your doctor is required to clearly state what will happen during your surgery so you’ll know what to expect. A concern many patients have is whether a surgical procedure will impact their appearance or ability to eat or speak. Your health care team will use many strategies to retain both form and function, but that may require rehabilitation for several months after treatment.

10397479Treatment type: radiation therapy

If radiation therapy is used to treat early-stage head and neck cancer, it can be the only treatment necessary and can often be curative. Radiation therapy may also be used sequentially (i.e., after surgery) or concurrently with chemotherapy (combined, the therapies are known as chemoradiation).

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays that disrupt the DNA of targeted cells and induces cell death, which then decreases the size of the tumor. To optimally deliver the high-energy rays to the site of the tumor yet protect surrounding tissues, radiation planning is performed before the radiation procedure. Imaging of the tumor site is mapped while the patient is positioned in the same manner as the upcoming treatment. Then, during radiation therapy treatment, the person is carefully positioned in the same place while the beams deliver radiation therapy to the tumor.

Radiation therapy can have the following side effects:

  • Inflammation of the membranes lining the mouth (mucositis); approximately 50 percent of patients who are administered radiation therapy develop this symptom at the time of treatment, and it can cause pain and interfere with eating and/or swallowing
  • Alteration in taste
  • Decreased salivation
  • Changes in voice (e.g., hoarseness)
  • Difficulty opening the mouth (trismus)
  • Cavities, which are likely due to decreased salivation
  • Fatigue, experienced by 70 to 80 percent of patients

drop in intravenous (IV) drip.Treatment type: chemoradiation therapy

If the cancer care team selects chemoradiation therapy, they may use it sequentially (following surgery) or as a primary treatment for patients with more advanced head and neck cancer. This type of therapy uses both chemotherapy and radiation therapy at the same time.

Chemoradiation therapy can have the following side effects:

  • Inflammation of the membranes lining the mouth, or mucositis; this symptom can interfere with eating and swallowing
  • Decreased salivation
  • Fatigue, reported by 70 to 80 percent of patients
  • Nausea and/or vomiting

Female Scientific Research Team With Clear Solution In LaboratorTreatment type: clinical trials

If your loved one has very advanced head and neck cancer, the cancer care team may recommend participating in a clinical trial. A clinical trial would enable your loved one to use therapies that are in development for the treatment of cancer.

Obviously, you want to get the cancer out of you, but it’s important not to just jump on the first options out there.Tony L. (oral cancer survivor)