Pharyngeal Cancer

Treatment

Treatment for pharyngeal cancer depends on the location of the tumor, as well as the stage of the cancer, and the person's age and overall health. Treatment options aim to minimize damage to a person's ability to eat, breathe and talk.

For Oropharynx

There are treatments for all patients with cancer of the oropharynx. Three kinds of treatment are used:

  • surgery (taking out the cancer)

  • radiation therapy (using high-dose x-rays or other high-energy rays to kill oropharynx cancer cells)

  • chemotherapy (using drugs to kill oropharynx cancer cells)

  • hyperthermia (warming the body to kill oropharynx cancer cells) is being tested in clinical trials.

Surgery is a common treatment of cancer of the oropharynx. A doctor may remove the cancer and some of the healthy tissue around the cancer. If cancer has spread to lymph nodes, the lymph nodes will be removed (lymph node dissection). A new type of surgery called micrographic surgery is being tested in clinical trials for early cancers of the oropharynx. Micrographic surgery removes the cancer and as little normal tissue as possible. During this surgery, the doctor removes the cancer and then uses a microscope to look at the cancerous area to make sure there are no oropharynx cancer cells remaining.

Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external radiation therapy) or from putting materials that produce radiation (radioisotopes) through thin plastic tubes in the area where the cancer cells are found (internal radiation therapy). External radiation to the thyroid or the pituitary gland may change the way the thyroid gland works. The doctor may wish to test the thyroid gland before and after therapy to make sure it is working properly. Giving drugs with the radiation therapy to make the oropharynx cancer cells more sensitive to radiation (radiosensitization) is being tested in clinical trials. If smoking is stopped before radiation therapy is started, there is a better chance of surviving longer.

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill oropharynx cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be taken by pill, or it may be put into the body by a needle in the vein or muscle. Chemotherapy is called a systemic treatment because the drug enters the bloodstream, travels through the body, and can kill cancer cells throughout the body.

People with oropharyngeal cancer have a higher risk of getting other cancers in the head and neck area. Clinical trials of oropharynx chemoprevention therapy are testing whether certain drugs can prevent second cancers from developing in the mouth, throat, windpipe, nose, or esophagus (the tube that connects the throat to the stomach).

Hyperthermia uses a special machine to heat the body for a certain period of time to kill cancer cells. Because cancer cells are often more sensitive to heat than normal cells, the oropharynx cancer cells die and the cancer shrinks.

Because the oropharynx helps in breathing, eating, and talking, patients may need special help adjusting to the side effects of the cancer and its treatment. A doctor will consult with several kinds of doctors who can help determine the best oropharynx cancer treatment. Trained medical staff can also help patients recover from treatment and adjust to new ways of eating and talking. Plastic surgery, or help learning to eat and speak, may be needed if a large part of the oropharynx is taken out.

For Nasopharynx

There are treatments for all patients with cancer of the nasopharynx. Three kinds of treatment are used:

  • radiation therapy (using high-dose x-rays or other high-energy rays to kill nasopharynx cancer cells)

  • surgery (taking out the cancer)

  • chemotherapy (using drugs to kill nasopharynx cancer cells)

  • biological therapy (using the body's immune system to fight nasopharynx cancer) is being tested in clinical trials.

Radiation therapy is the most common treatment for cancer of the nasopharynx. Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external radiation therapy) or from putting materials that produce radiation (radioisotopes) through thin plastic tubes in the area where the cancer cells are found (internal radiation therapy). External radiation to the thyroid or the pituitary gland may change the way the thyroid gland works. A doctor may wish to test the thyroid gland before and after therapy to make sure it is working properly.

Surgery is sometimes used for cancer of the nasopharynx that does not respond to radiation. If nasopharynx cancer has spread to lymph nodes, the lymph nodes may be removed (lymph node dissection). Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be taken by pill, or it may be put into the body by a needle in the vein or muscle. Chemotherapy is called a systemic treatment because the drug enters the bloodstream, travels through the body, and can kill cancer cells throughout the body.

Biological therapy tries to get the body to fight nasopharynx cancer. It uses materials made by the body or made in a laboratory to boost, direct, or restore the body's natural defenses against disease. Biological therapy is sometimes called biological response modifier (BRM) therapy or immunotherapy.

Because the nasopharynx helps in breathing and is close to the face, a patient may need special help adjusting to the side effects of the nasopharynx cancer and its treatment. A doctor will consult with several kinds of doctors who can help determine the best nasopharynx cancer treatment. Trained medical staff can also help patients recover from treatment. Patients may need plastic surgery if a large part of the nasopharynx is taken out.

For Hypopharynx

There are treatments for all patients with cancer of the hypopharynx. Two kinds of treatment are used:

  • surgery (taking out the hypopharynx cancer)

  • radiation therapy (using high-dose x-rays or other high-energy rays to kill cancer cells)

  • chemotherapy (using drugs to kill hypopharynx cancer cells) is being tested in clinical trials

Surgery is a common treatment of cancer of the hypopharynx. A doctor may remove the larynx and part of the throat in an operation called a laryngopharyngectomy. If the cancer is in the lymph nodes, the lymph nodes may be removed (lymph node dissection).

Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill hypopharynx cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external radiation therapy) or from putting materials that produce radiation (radioisotopes) through thin plastic tubes in the area where the hypopharynx cancer cells are found (internal radiation therapy). Giving drugs with the radiation therapy to make the cancer cells more sensitive to radiation (radiosensitization) is being tested in clinical trials. If smoking is stopped before radiation therapy is started, a patient has a better chance of surviving longer. External radiation to the thyroid or the pituitary gland may change the way the thyroid gland works. The doctor may wish to test the thyroid gland before and after therapy to make sure it is working properly.

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill hypopharynx cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be taken by pill, or it may be put into the body by a needle in the vein or muscle. Chemotherapy is called a systemic treatment because the drug enters the bloodstream, travels through the body, and can kill cancer cells throughout the body.

Because the hypopharynx helps people with breathing, eating, and talking, a patient may need special help adjusting to the side effects of the hypopharynx cancer and its treatment. The patient's doctor will consult with several kinds of doctors who can help determine the best hypopharynx cancer treatment. Trained medical staff can also help the patient recover from treatment. The patient may need plastic surgery or help learning to eat and speak if all or part of the hypopharynx is taken out.

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