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What Should I Expect from Head and Neck Cancer Treatment?

By Rachel Burkot
Updated May 17, 2024
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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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