Head and neck cancers are challenging to treat. Within a relatively small space lie several essential structures—the salivary glands, the parotid glands and the spinal cord. Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) has proven to be a particularly useful tool. It delivers radiation so precisely, that even with important normal structures adjacent to the tumor, radiation to those tissues can be minimized, therefore reducing toxicity.

In discussing the form of treatment, the doctor will consider several factors, including the stage and location of the cancer, the patient's ability to talk, eat and breathe normally, and the patient's age and general health.

Treatment options may include:

  • 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 Oncology

    Radiation oncology treatment involves the use of high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. 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 or radiation implant). Radioactive iodine may be used in the treatment of thyroid cancer.

  • Chemotherapy

    Chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells throughout the body. The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the drugs that are given. In general, anticancer drugs affect rapidly growing cells, including blood cells that fight infection, cells that line the mouth and the digestive tract, and cells in hair follicles.

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Martha Jefferson Cancer Center Oral Medication