What Should I Expect from Head and Neck Cancer Treatment?

Rachel Burkot
Rachel Burkot
Removal of the larynx may be required when there is cancer there.
Removal of the larynx may be required when there is cancer there.

Cancer of the head and neck can affect multiple areas and result in tongue cancer, oral cavity cancer, larynx cancer, throat cancer, thyroid cancer, sinus cancer and nasopharyngeal cancer. Symptoms of head and neck cancer include trouble swallowing, sore throats, earaches, a hoarse voice and lumps on the throat. Head and neck cancer treatment can take a few different forms. If caught early, these types of cancers can be taken care of with surgery. More intensive cancer or cancer caught in the later stages requires a mix of surgery and radiation treatments.

Chemotherapy is used to treat certain head and neck cancers, but side effects are common.
Chemotherapy is used to treat certain head and neck cancers, but side effects are common.

Microsurgery is a head and neck cancer treatment that removes the tumor and reconstructs the area that was affected by the cancer. After the cancer surgery to remove the tumor, the facial region is usually left disfigured and requires specialty services of a head or neck surgeon. An example of microsurgery as a head and neck cancer treatment includes laryngopharyngectomy, surgery to remove the larynx, or voice box, and part of the pharynx, or throat. Another example is neck dissection, surgery to remove the lymph nodes and other neck tissues.

X-rays can typically be used as a source of radiation in treating head and neck cancer.
X-rays can typically be used as a source of radiation in treating head and neck cancer.

Laser surgery is a more intensive type of head and neck cancer treatment that uses newer technology to pinpoint the tumor and remove only what is necessary without disrupting the skin or organs around the cancerous region. During laser surgery, the tumor can often be accessed through the patient’s mouth, without having to conduct open surgery. Appearance is better preserved with laser surgery than with microsurgery.

Cancer caught in the later stages may require a mix of surgery and radiation treatments.
Cancer caught in the later stages may require a mix of surgery and radiation treatments.

Another option for head and neck cancer treatment is chemoradiation, a process that combines chemotherapy with radiation treatment. This procedure is recommended for tumors that are in an advanced stage and cannot be removed with surgery. This head and neck cancer treatment causes worse side effects than a surgical treatment, however, including dry mouth, trouble swallowing and irritation of the mucous membranes.

Head and neck cancer may affect the throat, thyroid or oral cavity.
Head and neck cancer may affect the throat, thyroid or oral cavity.

If radiation treatment is used alone, it typically involves the use of CAT or MRI scans, which improves the accuracy of the head and neck cancer treatment by focusing in on the region to be treated. It then requires the use of x-rays or another source of radiation to destroy the cancerous cells. Fewer side effects are experienced with radiation treatment alone than with a combination of radiation treatment and chemotherapy. Chemotherapy alone may also be used, although unpleasant side effects such as vomiting are common with this type of cancer treatment.

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    • Removal of the larynx may be required when there is cancer there.
      Removal of the larynx may be required when there is cancer there.
    • Chemotherapy is used to treat certain head and neck cancers, but side effects are common.
      Chemotherapy is used to treat certain head and neck cancers, but side effects are common.
    • X-rays can typically be used as a source of radiation in treating head and neck cancer.
      X-rays can typically be used as a source of radiation in treating head and neck cancer.
    • Cancer caught in the later stages may require a mix of surgery and radiation treatments.
      Cancer caught in the later stages may require a mix of surgery and radiation treatments.
    • Head and neck cancer may affect the throat, thyroid or oral cavity.
      Head and neck cancer may affect the throat, thyroid or oral cavity.
    • Laser surgery is a type of head and neck cancer treatment.
      Laser surgery is a type of head and neck cancer treatment.