Head and Neck Cancer: Treatment Options
ON THIS PAGE: You will learn about the different ways doctors use to treat people with this type of cancer. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.
This section outlines treatments that are the standard of care (the best known treatments available) for this type of cancer. When making treatment plan decisions, patients are also encouraged to consider clinical trials as an option. A clinical trial is a research study to test a new approach to treatment to evaluate whether it is safe, effective, and possibly better than the standard treatment. Clinical trials may test such approaches as a new drug, a new combination of standard treatments, or new doses of current therapies. Your doctor can help you review all treatment options. For more information, see the About Clinical Trials and Latest Research sections.
The cancer care team
Head and neck cancer specialists usually form a multidisciplinary team to care for each patient, and an evaluation should be done by each doctor before any treatment begins. This team often includes a:
- Medical oncologist, which is a doctor who specialize in treating cancer with medication
- Radiation oncologist, which is a doctor who specializes in giving radiation therapy to treat cancer
- Surgical oncologist, which is a doctor who specializes in treating cancer using surgery
- Plastic (reconstruction) surgeon
- Maxillofacial prosthodontist, which is a specialist who performs restorative surgery in the head and neck areas
- Otolaryngologist, which is a doctor who specializes in the ear, nose, and throat
- Oncologic dentist or oral oncologist, which are dentists experienced in caring for people with head and neck cancer
- Physical therapist
- Speech pathologist
- Audiologist, which is a hearing expert
- Psychologist and/or psychiatrist
Cancer care teams also include a variety of other health care professionals, including physician assistants, oncology nurses, social workers, pharmacists, counselors, dietitians, and others. It is extremely important to create a comprehensive treatment plan before treatment begins, and people may need to be seen by several specialists before a treatment plan is fully developed.
Many cancers of the head and neck can be cured, especially if they are found early. Although eliminating the cancer is the primary goal of treatment, preserving the function of the nearby nerves, organs, and tissues is also very important. When planning treatment, doctors consider how treatment might affect a person’s quality of life, such as how a person feels, looks, talks, eats, and breathes.
Descriptions of the most common treatment options for head and neck cancer are listed below.
Overall, the main treatment options are surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. Surgery or radiation therapy by themselves or a combination of these treatments may be part of a person’s treatment plan. More details can be found in each specific cancer type’s section.
Treatment options and recommendations depend on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer, possible side effects, and the patient’s preferences and overall health. Your care plan may also include treatment for symptoms and side effects, an important part of cancer care. Take time to learn about all of your treatment options and be sure to ask questions about things that are unclear. Also, talk about the goals of each treatment with your doctor and what you can expect while receiving the treatment. Learn more about making treatment decisions.