Head and Neck Cancer Treatment

Just as each person is unique, each case of head and neck cancer is unique and a variety of treatment options may be available depending on the type of cancer, its staging, and your overall health. For every patient, a multidisciplinary team made up of medical oncologists, surgical oncologists and radiation oncologists review the tests and imaging to develop recommendations on an individual basis. Each patient’s personalized treatment plan will include all appropriate types of therapy, depending on the type of tumor, its stage and the patient’s overall state of health.

Surgery

Surgery is one of the most common treatments for cancer, however the majority of patients receive additional treatments such as chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. During surgery, your surgeon will remove the tumor and some surrounding healthy tissue. He or she also may remove some lymph nodes so they may be examined for cancer.

In addition to traditional and robotic surgery, we also offer endoscopic surgery. During this procedure the surgeon uses a bendable laser fiber to reach locations that are normally unreachable. Our advanced surgical options result in less pain, shorter stays and a faster return to normal activity.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is a key part of treating cancer and is often used following surgery. This therapy involves using high-powered energy beams to target and kill residual cancer cells. It also may be used to alleviate symptoms resulting from advanced-stage cancer.

The most common form of radiation therapy is known as external beam radiation. This involves using a machine that directs energy beams at the part of your body affected by cancer. Alternatively, radiation may be performed by placing radioactive material inside your body, a process known as brachytherapy.

Radiation therapy causes side effects such as fatigue and a temporary rash at the treatment site.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses powerful drugs to destroy cancer cells. Sometimes it is given before surgery to shrink the size of the tumor, making it easier for the surgeon to remove the cancer. Chemotherapy also may be necessary after surgery if the cancer appears likely to return or spread to another part of the body.

Common side effects of chemotherapy include nausea, vomiting, hair loss, fatigue and an increased risk of infection. Other side effects may include damage to the heart and kidneys, premature menopause, nerve damage and blood cell cancer, although these are extremely rare.

Clinical Trials

Our center offers a number of trials in surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy for patients with head and neck cancer. Through ongoing clinical trials and our integrated programs in cancer treatment, research and education, we ensure that each patient has the best possible care available.

Maxillofacial Prosthodontics and Dental Oncology

Patients with head and neck cancers may experience disfigurement as part of the treatment process to the oral cavity. Our skilled and talented dental team has extensive education and experience in treating oral cancers. These professionals serve as part of the larger team responsible for planning your treatment, care and rehabilitation.

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

Patients who require surgical treatment for head and neck cancers also may require reconstruction to the areas impacted by that treatment in order to maintain or return their ability to breath, eat, swallow and/or speak. Reconstructive surgery seeks to preserve or recover the appearance and function of the involved areas. Our goal always is to restore our patient’s appearance and the function of their impacted areas such as the eye-orbit, nasal or oral cavity, ears and upper digestive tract.

Speech-Language Pathology

Speech, voice, swallowing, language and cognitive function may be affected by a cancer diagnosis depending upon the site of cancer and treatment required. Our speech-language pathologists are part of the care team and focus on helping patients maintain quality of life.

For patients who experience difficulty in swallowing as a result of treatment, your physician may order a modified barium swallow study to gain a better understanding of your particular situation in order to help you swallow properly and improve quality of life. 

Also known as MBS, a modified barium swallow study is a video x-ray (fluoroscopy) exam of your swallowing function. It is used to examine how food and liquid travel from the mouth to the esophagus. Your physician will use this test to evaluate, diagnose and treat specific swallowing disorders.

Other patients may experience problems with their voice as a result of treatment. If you are experiencing such difficulties, your physician may order a videostroboscopic evaluation to gain a better understanding of your particular situation.

Videostroboscopy is a painless method of viewing and recording laryngeal function during speaking and breathing. The larynx, or “voice box,” includes the vocal cords, which come together when you speak. Your speech pathologist assesses numerous aspects of the voice during the exam. It also may greatly assist your physician in making an accurate diagnosis of vocal pathology, including masses and lesions.