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Head and Neck Cancer


Patients with head and neck cancers are usually treated by a team of specialists. The specialists vary, depending on the location and extent of the cancer. The cancer treatment team may include oral surgeons; ear, nose, and throat surgeons (also called otolaryngologists); pathologists; medical oncologists; radiation oncologists; prosthodontists; dentists; plastic surgeons; dietitians; social workers; nurses; physical therapists; and speech-language pathologists (sometimes called speech therapists).

Head and neck cancer treatment plans for patients depend on a number of factors, including the exact location of the tumor, the stage of the cancer, and the person’s age and general health. The patient and the doctor should consider the available head and neck cancer treatment options carefully. They should discuss each type of treatment and how it might change the way the patient looks, talks, eats, or breathes.

Surgery - The surgeon may remove the cancer and some of the healthy tissue around it. Lymph nodes in the neck may also be removed (lymph node dissection), if the doctor suspects that the cancer has spread. Surgery may be followed by radiation treatment.

Radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy. This treatment for head and neck cancer involves the use of high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy affects the cancer cells only in the treated area. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external radiation therapy). It can also come from radioactive materials placed directly into or near the area where the cancer cells are found (internal radiation therapy).

Chemotherapy - Anticancer drugs are used to kill cancer cells throughout the body. Drugs used to treat head and neck cancers are usually given by injection into the bloodstream (intravenous, or IV). Chemotherapy is widely used to treat certain stages of cancer of the nasopharynx, hypopharynx, and salivary glands. Its use in treating other head and neck cancers is being tested in clinical trials (research studies). Chemotherapy may be combined with radiation therapy to treat cancer of the nasopharynx.

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